Debbie K. Hoffman, chief legal officer, Digital Risk
Debbie K. Hoffman, chief legal officer, Digital Risk

With experience working at Thacher Proffitt & Wood, LLP as well as teaching classes at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Florida A&M, it’s no wonder that Debbie L. Hoffman, the first chief legal officer at financial services firm Digital Risk, has designed a leadership program that, in her words, is “like a firm.”

As the first ever GC at Digital Risk, Hoffman approached the challenge of building her legal team with an eye toward growth from within. Combine this with her experience as a professor, and one can understand why she begins her external talent searches with a strong internship program. 

These programs are, in many ways, modeled after what Hoffman experienced working in law firms.Hoffman took what she saw there in terms of interviewing and recruitment strategies and added the valuable experience she gained running the internship program at UCF, to understand the perspective of the students themselves. Hoffman’s internship program in the legal department was so successful that Digital Risk has implemented it as a model for one of its company-wide programs. 

But Hoffman’s program goes far beyond the recruitment phase. She has made the development of talent a personal goal, and, as her team grows, the members of that team have settled into vital roles. Among the important roles she has filled with trusted inside counsel are a specialist in employment law and an attorney who handles contracts and IP licensing. She also has an assistant GC who handles much of the compliance work, which can be complex for a financial services company. 

Part of the impetus for this talent development initiative was an effort to save money. As GC, Hoffman is more involved than ever in business decisions, and she knew that cutting down on the amount the legal department spent on outside counsel was a smart business decision. Now, matters of, say, employment law that might otherwise have been handled by an outside firm billing at a high rate can be handled by the inside team. 

Still, Hoffman says that some matters must be handled by outside attorneys, and she cites several key factors that weigh in on her selection of outside counsel. First, she looks for expertise. If there is a matter that requires, say, patent expertise or experience with an unusual form of litigation, she is likely to seek outside counsel there. When selecting outside counsel, she looks for firms that are responsive, willing to pick up the phone on nights or weekends to deal with a matter that is important to Digital Risk. Finally, she notes that, sometimes, she’ll turn to a name firm when sending out a memo, if that sort of name recognition will be helpful.

While Digital Risk is not a huge company, Hoffman says that her goal is to take what big companies can do and use a smaller budget and smarter process processes to handle important matters. This can be done by creating in-house tech solutions or finding and building a team that is savvy in a number of essential areas. In the end, she has taken the reins as the first GC of her company and built a team that saves money and grows alongside the company.


Further reading:


Still a long way to go for women in the boardroom

Moving beyond diversity in the legal department

Navigating dynamics of the boardroom

The path toward becoming GC: New responsibilities, old challenges