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Mary Catherine Malley’s interest in law began at age nine. When her father, a prominent lawyer in Buffalo, was taking the oath to become a New York State supreme court justice, the administering justice asked for one of the children to come up to hold the Bible. She leapt onto the dais. “I made it first because the steps were right in front of me,” she says.
Many more steps have led to Malley’s current role as senior corporate counsel at Juniper Networks. Her position is the result of several key pivots, and she’s discovered that a winding path can be a professional asset.
One of eight children born into a second-generation Irish American family, Malley attended Saint Mary’s College, a women’s college in Notre Dame, Indiana. After earning an undergraduate degree in finance, she attended the University of Buffalo School of Law and completed internships at a large public utility and a small firm dealing with corporate matters. Those small steps led to a bigger leap when the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hired her into the Division of Corporation Finance right out of law school.
“Working for the SEC was an opportunity of a lifetime,” Malley recalls. “I worked with highly knowledgeable people deeply committed to the mission of the SEC, which is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.” She mastered the rules and applications of the securities laws, knowledge that would later benefit corporate clients.
Following a two-year stint at Shearman and Sterling, a large international law firm based in New York City, Malley returned to her hometown. There, over the next seven years, she developed her corporate and securities legal practice at Hodgson Russ. In addition to focusing on her career, she became deeply involved in leading efforts to revitalize the Buffalo Niagara region. Together with other young professionals, she formed the New Millennium Group, a nonprofit working on economic redevelopment, at a time when many were intent on creating positive change in the area following decades of decline. “I believe that we helped to change the conversation from where Buffalo had been to where it was going,” she says. Today, the city is thriving.
When her children were toddlers, Malley and her husband moved to California for a job he’d accepted, and she took a break from her own career. “Even though I had a growing practice, I thought it was a good time to invest in my little people,” she explains. To that end, as her children grew, she became involved in her new community of Salinas, on California’s central coast, eventually becoming a Girl Scout leader and a volunteer art docent, teaching art history to elementary students.
Eleven years later, when Malley was ready to return to law, she found that going back to the professional world was no easy task. She sought out organizations like iRelaunch, the Diversity Lab’s OnRamp program, and the Mom Project, which support professionals returning to the workforce. She also participated in the year-long WILpower leadership program, sponsored by Leading Women in Technology.
In the end, Malley says, it all came down to putting herself out there. A driveway chat with a neighbor turned into a two-year “returnship” (like an internship for people who’ve taken time away from the traditional workforce) at organicgirl, an organic produce company. She also did contract work for a Silicon Valley tech company. When a former SEC mentor offered an opportunity to attend a Women’s 100 conference, she made a connection that paved the way to her present full-time position.
At Juniper Networks, an international IT networking company headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, Malley wears many hats as a senior corporate counsel on the corporate team in the Juniper Legal Organization. She works collaboratively with stakeholders across the company on public filings with the SEC and other regulatory entities, trademarks, and a wide variety of corporate matters affecting the company’s business. Malley also serves as a cochair of the inclusion and diversity initiative for the legal department.
In talking about relaunching, Malley points to the value of vulnerability—an insight she gained from author Brené Brown. “It’s not very easy to put yourself out there again,” she says. “When I stepped back from my legal career in 2005, there were many women taking time off who were talking about the ‘off-ramp’ and hoping to find an on-ramp in the future. Today, on-ramps exist because companies and firms recognize the value that experienced lawyers can offer. I’m fortunate that Juniper is a very supportive environment. Especially in law, it is critical to support one another—men and women—in balancing our goals, our families, and fostering a collaborative department.”
Once Malley found her professional footing again, she was able to identify what she calls her superpower: networking. “Today, people reach out to me and ask for career advice because they see my path,” she says. “Others have supported me, and I am committed to paying it forward.”
Hanson Bridgett LLP:
“Mary Catherine is an excellent attorney who is accomplished in several areas of law. She is incredibly thoughtful, sharp, and effective with a collaborative style. It is a privilege to work with Mary Catherine and her team.”
–Raffi Zerounian, Partner