05/20/2015 04:05 am ET Updated May 19, 2016

Women in Business Q&A: Debbie Hoffman, Digital Risk

Debbie Hoffman oversees the operation of Digital Risk's legal, compliance, risk and licensing functions. Debbie earned a Bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree from the Albany Law School of Union University, where she graduated cum laude and served as an editor on the Albany Law Review. Debbie is Authorized Florida House Counsel, a Member of the US Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York and admitted solely to the New York and Connecticut Bars.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I truly believe that you cannot succeed without hard work and self-motivation to push yourself to the next level. I have always been an extremely diligent worker with a high personal bar. Growing up I excelled at academics, but I worked hard and was motivated and challenged by those around me who were smarter, faster or more successful - whether my classmates, professional peers or my immediate family. In my professional career, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by exceedingly bright and motivated leaders and been able to learn from their tremendous talent and intellect.

I push myself to overcome fears and force myself to take risks even though I am naturally over-cautious in nature. Last summer, I went zip-lining in the Tongass National Rainforest in Alaska - and loved it. Thus, being able to push myself through fear, take a risk here or there and conquer skills that do not come easily are all things that have helped me become a better leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Digital Risk?
I came to Digital Risk having had two primary work experiences. The first was working as a real estate finance attorney at a Wall Street law firm, and after that I became a higher education instructor and professor. From my law firm experience, I knew how to meet the demands of the clients at Digital Risk - whether internal company departments or external customers. I also have a passion for developing talent and teaching the intricacies of law, real estate and business. As the first General Counsel at Digital Risk, I had to develop a legal and compliance team. During my tenure, I have been able to cultivate lawyers and bring expertise in-house, rather than using all outside counsel. One of the programs I developed from both the firm and university experience is a robust legal internship program combining real corporate experience and an educational environment. This program is primarily how Digital Risk is able to develop a plethora of candidates to choose from when we hire new attorneys and legal clerks.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Digital Risk?
The highlight has clearly been to be able to start a legal department from scratch and experience an entrepreneurial company while it grew from 300 to 2000 employees, and approximately tripled in revenue. There is a true thrill in working at a growing company and experiencing the success. Digital Risk continued to reach success as it grew to become part of the Mphasis, an HP company, family. While such growth allows the company to serve our clients globally, there are, of course, challenges with learning new processes and accommodating different structures to enable a seamless transition in operations among parent and subsidiary. Fortunately, with the acquisition, I had the opportunity to become Head of Legal, North America, for Mphasis and I continue to grow in my career and experience new global legal and regulatory challenges on a daily basis.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking for a career in law?
Women have different dynamics in their everyday interactions; we tend to be a bit more emotional and shy away from confrontation. As a woman executive, and a lead woman attorney, we need to be strong, hold our own, not be afraid to speak up, and know that not everyone is going to like us. At times it is difficult to ask directly for what we want - whether a raise or a larger office, but we can't be shy; men aren't. We should sit in the middle of the boardroom, speak up and speak loudly, and have a presence.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I pick and choose the priorities and know that I cannot be present at everything at work and at everything at home. At work, I have to know which meetings are critical, and which ones can be handled in an email or by a phone call. I also have to determine when to take control vs. when to delegate, loosen the reigns, and let a second-in-command take the lead. At home, I have to pick the important events to attend - make sure I make it to most of my son's little league games - even if I am late, and attend the dance competition meets. Quality time with my family is there on weekends, but the family needs to be supportive that we aren't going to spend every night around a dinner table and have detailed conversations during the day.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women think that there is such a thing as "having it all" and that is really a myth. What we need to do is stay focused on our goals, strive for the best we can and know when to say "it is good enough." We want to be the top in our profession, a high performing executive, largest producer in our department and serve as board members. At the same time, we still want to be a fantastic friend, daughter, wife and mother. There are times when we have to accept that work simply takes priority and that we aren't going to bond with other moms or be able to lunch with the neighborhood ladies.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been fortunate in that I have had the opportunity to work with extremely capable, intelligent and generous mentors. At the same time, I have also had the satisfaction of serving as a mentor to a multitude of law students and new attorneys. I aspire and work to obtain the traits of the terrific leaders who've mentored me: incredible focus and dedication to the client or project at hand; an eye on the large issues and not getting hung up on the small; calm demeanor in the eye of a crisis; vision of the bigger picture; conveying respect for the opposing party; and an ability to get along with all types of people. I pride myself on being a good mentor to law students and new attorneys. I strive to convey to my mentees that the most important thing is hard work, diligence, dedication and being able to see projects through to completion.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
For me, the ultimate female leader would have to be a patchwork of various women leaders and certain traits that they possess. While this may sound cliché, the only one female leader who I know inside and out, and can say with 100% conviction that I admire as a successful woman leader, is my mom, Aleena Shapiro. She is an accomplished attorney who went to law school at NYU when I was eight years old, made law review, obtained her LL.M. degree in taxation while working at a large New York law firm, started her own practice, has written her memoirs (as the daughter of holocaust survivors) and serves on a number of community boards. In addition, she is a very strong mother and loving grandmother, and quite fashionable too! She has a fire within her that is incredibly admirable.

What do you want Digital Risk to accomplish in the next year?
Digital Risk is a company that has done extremely well in the past nine years, and there is ample opportunity for the company to continue to grow. The company has several core competencies that are very well recognized in the mortgage and financial industry; however, there are many other areas of expertise that the company can capitalize. Digital Risk is uniquely positioned to add value to our customers in the mortgage and financial industry because of the depth of expertise and the breadth of resources under one roof. One of the areas of interest and of concern to our customers is the arena of regulatory compliance, and I would like to see Digital Risk's Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) solutions continue to add value to customers in this space. I take a personal interest in this operating unit since it is tied to my job function as Chief Legal Officer and overseeing the compliance role of our company and clients.