Shelby Compton always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. When she was little, she told her sisters that’s what she would be one day. Consider that mission accomplished. After graduating from Notre Dame Law School, Shelby practiced as an associate in the mergers and acquisitions group at Jones Day, a big law firm in Southern California. Today, she’s a rising star in Ontra’s account management team, where she helps guide the strategic vision for managing and growing accounts, leads new clients from their initial onboarding call to full engagement, and designs and implements custom processes for new engagements in response to specific client needs.
In celebration of strong and inspiring women, Ontra sat down with Shelby to discuss her journey to Ontra, the importance of a strong female community, and the piece of advice that stays with her through the years.
Tell us more about your time as a practicing attorney at Jones Day. Did you always know you wanted to go into transactional law?
As soon as I decided to go to law school, I knew I wanted to do transactional work. I interned at the Coconino County Public Defender’s Office in Flagstaff, AZ and while I valued the experience, litigation wasn’t for me. I enjoyed business law and liked M&A best because of the collaborative environment. Everyone sitting at the table and working on deals has the same goal at the end of the day — to get the deal done in a way that satisfies all parties.
As an associate in the mergers and acquisitions group at Jones Day, I worked on various deals, including a bit of venture capital and private equity work, and a ton of M&A deals. We were leanly staffed and worked in small teams, so I had to quarterback the deals to make sure they got done. A lot goes into dealmaking, from working with all the different specialist groups and doing due diligence on the company, to advising the client of red flags and drafting the operative agreements.
What brought you to Ontra?
I enjoyed my time in Big Law, but was ready for the next step in my career. I heard about Ontra from a few friends at law school who were working here, and it sounded like a great company. Ontra is so passionate about its mission to free its customers to focus on other strategic priorities and I thought, “Why isn’t everyone using this?” As someone who experienced the strain of routine contracts firsthand, I felt like all lawyers should be using Ontra’s technology. So I wanted to be a part of it.
For example, I did a big NDA overhaul for a client when I was a first-year associate. I remember it taking a long time because I was revamping their process, but hadn’t worked on many NDAs yet. There was a lot of pressure to get it right so I spent a significant amount of time doing background research. It was a great learning experience for me, but looking back I see that the client could get a more efficient result if they worked with Ontra lawyers that know NDAs inside and out.
As we all know, March is a celebration of Women’s History Month. Tell us more about the role women play in your life and career, particularly in a male-dominated industry.
I am so honored and proud to be a woman and to have been surrounded by exceptional women my entire life. I was raised by a strong mother, I have three amazing sisters, and I come from a long line of strong women. In addition, I was in a sorority in college and I managed an all-female dorm during law school. My life has been characterized by women lifting each other up.
I can’t understate the importance of having a strong female community, especially coming from a male-dominated specialty like M&A, where I was the only female and youngest associate. And though I got along great with my colleagues, I do feel I lacked that mentor role or the person I wanted to be when I grew up. There is so much value in seeing a woman who has done the work you want to do and whose career you want to emulate. It’s been a longstanding issue across the legal industry, but I would love to see women in this industry elevated more.
Speaking of women to look up to, who are the women you admire?
My older sister is definitely one. She’s a medical resident with a small child, but somehow she manages to still do it all. I am so impressed by the grace under pressure she always exhibits. Outside of my family, I really admire Glennon Doyle. She’s an inspiration as a businesswoman and person, and I’ve looked up to her work for a long time. At Ontra, I can say that I’m so fortunate to have found a strong, compassionate female career mentor. Nikhita (who’s a managing director on the account management team) has been such a great mentor for me. This is the first time I’m able to learn from a woman who’s on the path I want to be on, and I truly appreciate being able to look to her example.
Wow, what a great group of women you have around you! What’s the one piece of advice that’s helped you turn into the force you are today?
The best advice I’ve received is to be a self-advocate. My favorite teacher drilled this into me, and it has stuck with me over the years. Share your successes, ask how you can get the responsibilities or positions that excite you, and be confident in your skills and worth. A lot of young people, and young women in particular, don’t want to seem boastful or suffer from some imposter syndrome. Great mentors and champions are so instrumental in highlighting and reminding you what you’re capable of, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to ask for what you want and then give it your best.
Now let’s get to know a little bit about Shelby outside of Ontra. What’s your favorite movie or TV show?
Parks and Recreation is my favorite TV show. I love Leslie Knope — she’s such a great leader by example and uplifts everyone around her. Her passion is so inspiring. Amy Poehler is also just hilarious. I love comedy and loved her book “Yes Please” because she makes such poignant, resonant points while also making you laugh. I loved the quote “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.” Overapologizing, especially in the professional context, is something I’ve fought hard to unlearn. I used to keep a sticky note on my computer monitor with alternative phrases to help me avoid saying “I’m sorry” in emails. It took me time to realize that it’s okay to be human and imperfect. The truth is you deserve to be in the space anyway, even if you’re learning as you go – that is something I still have to remind myself.
And what do you like to do outside of work?
I love to travel. I’ve been to all 50 states, visited almost half of the national parks, and have traveled to 32 countries and counting.
The travel bug bit me early! When I was younger, my mom, sisters, and I set the goal of seeing all 50 states. So every summer we would hop in the car and road trip across the country (the only exception was flying to Florida then taking a cruise to Alaska). We succeeded in our mission the summer before I started law school. I learned to appreciate the different kinds of beauty across the country and it was so exciting to see how differently people live in each state.
It’s inevitable that you will also become an amazing mentor to the future generation. What are the words of wisdom you like to share with others?
I always advise people to lead from a place of kindness and empathy, whether that’s in a personal or professional setting. I think your EQ is just as important as your IQ. If you make your decisions with kindness, good things will come back to you. It’s easy to get impatient, particularly in a virtual environment where so much is done over email, but people will always appreciate (and remember) being treated well, and it’s difficult to go wrong when you start from that mindset. The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.