THE RISE OF A
YOUNG FEMALE COO
From law student to leading a corporate law firm, Hiba Touma takes the reigns as ROZARIO’s youngest and first female COO
We recently sat down with Chief Operating Officer, Hiba Touma, to discuss her role as a young female Corporate Officer. Ms. Touma provided invaluable insight for women who aspire to succeed in the Corporate world.
1. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you and how did you become COO of Rozario & Associates, P.C.?
That may be one of the most common questions I am asked, once people learn I am Chief Operating Officer of a corporate law firm. I am 27 years old, however, some assume I am younger.
There were many factors that contributed to my becoming Chief Operating Officer at ROZARIO. Most of which can be attributed to a lot of hard work, determination and dedication. Some say I am an over-achiever, but call it what you want — I always strive to be the best and deliver the best.
I graduated from St. Francis College with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. After graduation, I debated between pursuing my Master’s degree in Economics or going to law school, however, personal circumstances caused me to defer post-graduate school. I entered the workforce at a time when our economy was still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, so entry-level positions were limited. Nonetheless, I was determined to find a place where I would enjoy the office culture as much as the professional challenges.
Given my interest in law, I felt that a law firm would allow me to further explore that interest. In 2013, I joined the ROZARIO team, as a Receptionist. At that time, the team consisted of the Managing Attorney, an Office Manager, a Paralegal, and myself. We were a small law firm, but we all had a passion for the law and more importantly, the same vision for the company.
As a Receptionist, I observed, listened and learned. I made it a habit to read and understand every document that crossed my desk and immersed myself in case files during my free time. I asked many questions and independently researched concepts that were new to me. Eventually, I became thoroughly familiar with all of our cases, the processes and legal procedures. I always looked for new challenges, both legal and administrative. My involvement in legal work increased and after a year, I was promoted to Paralegal. To me, becoming Paralegal wasn’t just a promotion, it was an added responsibility. I never let go of making sure the receptionist duties were performed properly and that my successor excelled in her position.
During the summer of 2015, our Office Manager resigned. I took the initiative and quickly assumed most of his administrative duties. After eight months, I was promoted to Senior Paralegal and Director of Human Resources.
My transition from Receptionist to Paralegal to Director of Human Resources laid the groundwork for understanding the inner operations of the firm. It gave me an opportunity to learn the duties of each role and their relationship to each other. Throughout my transitions, I would implement changes to our work-flow, policies and procedures. My background in Economics proved to be very useful in the analysis of the different areas of the business and its operation. I pitched new ideas to our Managing Attorney and led the execution of the firm’s growth strategies. I spent many days, and admittedly nights, working, researching, and developing new ways to add value to our clients and to the firm.
In August 2017, I was offered the title and role as Chief Operating Officer and to head our office operations and business development.
2. What is a typical day as COO of ROZARIO?
I have adopted a macro-approach to our operations. I felt that to be effective, it was important to understand the different variables within a business and their interaction with each other as a whole. This makes it easier to implement targeted changes and policies that are designed to propel forward the firm’s mission of client success and zealous advocacy.
I wear multiple hats throughout the day, so my day can become fairly hectic rather quickly. I oversee our Business Development, Marketing, IT, Human Resources, Fiscal, and Internal Productivity. All of these areas constantly need my attention, so I am usually handling multiple tasks at a time. I compare my role to that of a conductor — I position the pieces to ensure our team is where it needs to be, doing what needs to be done and having access to the resources it needs.
My mornings start at 6:00 a.m. I go through my e-mail, review the firm’s calendar, organize daily objectives and communicate these objectives to our Managing Partner. The Managing Partner and I maintain an open line of communication and make our best efforts to provide each other with frequent updates. Once at the office, the first half of my morning consists of reviewing the firm’s overall productivity and fiscal health, addressing employee questions, following up on court appearances, deadlines and distributing assignments. I review our case files periodically to stay up to date with the progress of each case. By the afternoon, I work on my short-term and long-term projects. My projects generally include preparing RFP and bid proposals, updating our Employee Handbook, implementing marketing initiatives, analyzing financial data, addressing client inquiries, building and fostering client relationships, identifying new opportunities and developing new strategies. I find it useful to divide my days into different areas of focus. For example, Mondays are reserved for Marketing and Business Development-based projects, Tuesdays are reserved for Human Resources and IT initiatives, and so forth. Whether I’m in the office or working from home, I’m always connected.
3. What do you say to those who might say you are too young to shoulder a position of COO?
My age has no bearing on the skills I possess or my ability to do my job. My age is simply a circumstance. Yes, I agree that age provides a level of experience and wisdom, but it is because I am young that I am able to provide a different perspective, one that is filled with innovation, creativity and drive.
Starting as a Receptionist of the firm and being promoted, I developed a personal connection with the firm. I have witnessed the firm’s ongoing transition, its successes, and its setbacks. I have come to know the nuances of the firm thoroughly.
Despite the many stresses, sacrifices, and challenges I have encountered, each one has become a learning experience. I am committed to the success of the firm and that is what makes for an effective COO, despite my age.
4. What kind of work does Rozario & Associates, P.C. do?
Rozario & Associates, P.C., is a full-service law firm that represents a wide array of clients in the private and public sector. We specialize in Real Estate Law, Tort Law, Commercial Law, Labor and Employment Law, Corporate Law, Insurance Law, Private Equity and Intellectual Property. Our business outreach spans domestically, along the East Coast, and internationally to South America, the Caribbean and Canada.
We are unique in that we provide our clients with the experience of having general counsel they can call on for all of their legal needs, but offer the expertise of area-specific counsel. Our attorneys come from diverse professional backgrounds which serve as an asset to our clients.
5. What advice would you give to women who struggle to break the glass ceiling?
If it’s one thing I can say about women, it’s that we are tenacious and determined. My best advice is to keep pushing, even if it means you have to work ten times harder than everyone else. The moment you give up is the moment society’s misconceptions about women become true.
As a woman competing for a position traditionally entrusted to men, you need to be confident in yourself and your skills. You cannot be afraid to let your ideas be heard, but also be prepared to defend them. Going the extra mile, whether it be with background research, case studies, or prototypes, gives an idea of credibility and provides decision-makers with something tangible to rely on.
Most importantly, once you do break that glass ceiling, you have to provide other women with the opportunity and the guidance to do the same.
6. I’ve been told and based on my research that you are also in law school. How do you manage classes, studying and running an elite law firm, all at the same time?
Yes, I am currently a third-year law student at New York Law School. Learning to balance school and the firm has been an experience in and of itself. The firm has always been a proponent of growth, whether it be the growth of the firm, the growth of our clients, or the individual growth of our team members. It was no surprise that my decision to pursue law was met with positive feedback and encouragement.
So far, I have been able to manage both, but not without the support of the ROZARIO team. I knew going to law school would limit in the time I had to dedicate to the firm, but I was determined to make it work. To manage both and be successful at both, I made many lifestyle changes. Time management has also played an important role in my life. I rely a lot on my calendar for reminders and scheduling everything from meetings and study time to time with family and friends. I always keep my notebook with me to write my “to do” list and ideas throughout the day.
I’d like to say that I compartmentalize my titles so that when I am at school I am strictly a law student and when I am at work I am strictly COO, but that’s not always the case. Much of what I learned at ROZARIO, I was able to apply throughout law school and vice versa.
7. How long have you held this position and what changes or strategies did you implement as COO?
I have officially held the title of COO for one year. However, I assumed the responsibilities of COO, long before that.
Three years ago, we made a commitment to grow the firm, while maintaining a level of excellence and dedication to our clients. This has been the mission behind every strategy, idea, and decision. Since then we have made many changes to the way we operate and developed various expansion strategies. Within a year of implementing our changes, the firm has increased in size and nearly doubled its revenue.
I initially targeted the foundation of the firm, which was the internal work-flow. I changed our production structure, the way we managed our case files and our communication with clients.
I then focused on our Information Technology Systems. I am very much a proponent of technology, so one of my goals was to transform the firm to be able to compete in a digital world. I facilitated a firm-wide technology update to reinforce our commitment to innovation and increase productivity. Some of the changes include: updates to our computer systems and cyber-security; the switch to electronic intake and file management; the switch to Clio, a cloud-based case-management program, which virtually gives us access to our files at any time, from anywhere; and the utilization of Slack#, an instant messaging software, to improve firm-wide communication and many other tech-related changes.
As for our Human Resources Department, I transformed our Employee Policy and Procedures Manual into a detailed Employee Handbook that addresses all HR related issues. I developed a new system to track vacation time and employee attendance.
The areas that have experienced the most dramatic changes were our Business Development and Marketing.
In October of 2017, I coordinated our move from Brooklyn, New York to our current location in the Financial District in Manhattan, New York. This opened the firm to many more opportunities and put us in a better position to scale the firm and compete with other law firms.
We have successfully certified the firm as a Minority-Owned Business Enterprise with the State of New York, the City of New York, the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council, and New York/New Jersey Port Authority.
We actively seek new opportunities both in the private and public sectors. I successfully submitted RFP proposals and we were awarded contracts with the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority, Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and we have been pre-qualified to provide legal services by Empire State Development and Nassau County, New York.
I dedicate a lot of time and effort to maintaining relationships with current clients, fostering new relationships and supporting our local communities. As a result of our business development efforts, our network has vastly increased.
On the marketing front, we are constantly testing new ideas and strategies. I developed a marketing plan that focuses on business outreach and brand recognition. I re-branded Rozario & Associates, P.C., as ROZARIO and re-designed our logo, which was trademarked in 2017. I launched an internal campaign that focused on our digital presence. This included the development of our website and our social media platforms. We recently launched our legal learning seminars and we are in the final stages of launching the firm’s quarterly newsletter.
8. What are some of the challenges, if any, you encountered as a female COO?
The position can be very demanding and comes with many challenges, independent of gender. Admittedly, I have not encountered any challenges as COO that I would attribute to my gender. I believe in preparation and confidence when interacting with decision-makers and clients.
9. Do you plan to practice law after graduating from law school?
Yes, I plan on taking the New York and Florida Bar Examination and hopefully practicing upon admission. I have put a lot of effort into learning the law, and there are certain areas that excite me, even as I work on them now. Fortunately, ROZARIO has offered me a position as an Associate Attorney. However, I do not anticipate stepping down as COO. My plan is to combine both roles and continue our path of growth and success.