Catherine Bragg – TRC Companies
While many private practice attorneys manage many clients at once, Catherine Bragg has always preferred a more monogamous approach.
As an in-house lawyer, Bragg likes focusing on a single client, with an eye on truly understanding the business and adding value—and she has the resume to prove it.
Since graduating from law school almost two decades ago, she’s helped one of the country’s most innovative environmental engineering firms become a leading consulting and design firm in the construction industry—particularly in the power, environmental and infrastructure markets.
First joining TRC in 2003 to support its corporate compliance needs, Bragg says she was attracted by the company’s focus on making clients more environmentally friendly.
At first, Bragg found herself in more of a generalist role, managing corporate secretarial matters for the company’s many subsidiaries, as well as addressing the company’s legal challenges, including employment issues, regulatory compliance and project-specific disputes. As the company entered markets such as transportation design, construction inspection and renewable energy programs, her role grew.
“It was a key growth period for TRC,” Bragg recalls. “I jumped at the chance to help develop a legal operation to meet the needs of this rapidly evolving company.”
In 2012, Weidlinger Associates Inc., a structural engineering firm and leader in the security-design market, offered Bragg an opportunity to become its first general counsel to build a new legal function, and she took it.
Over the years, Weidlinger has been involved in a number of high-profile projects, including the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. According to Bragg, Weidlinger is a global leader in structural hardening design, such as the structural protection of buildings and bridges to withstand events such as earthquakes, severe storm events and explosions.
In 2015, Thornton Tomasetti, an engineering firm based in Manhattan, moved to acquire Weidlinger. Bragg, who led the legal aspects of the transaction for Weidlinger, found herself unexpectedly at a personal turning point.
“My family needed more of my time and their needs drove a change in priorities that took me down a different path from Weidlinger,” she says.
Although Bragg had been away from TRC for almost three years, she’d built a reputation at the company for her pragmatic and solution-oriented approach. That’s why TRC asked her to return in 2016—just in time to spearhead the legal integration of the professional service divisions of the Willbros Group, a Houston-based firm specializing in pipeline engineering, surveying and land acquisition that TRC had acquired.
“It was a pivotal,” Bragg recalls. “I led the integration of numerous small acquisitions by TRC over the years, but this acquisition—consisting of 650 people who provided services under different regulations and laws—was a new challenge.”
As a result of the acquisition, TRC soon got involved in several sizable pipeline projects across the U.S.—specifically in the areas of design, route optimization and land-acquisition. Bragg handled compliance for these pipelines and their operations, which she says are heavily regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration.
“This change demanded that I add to my own skillset in supporting the broadening compliance consulting business at TRC,” Bragg says.
As TRC expands into new markets and industries, she’s spending more time on the company’s acquisition strategy, working closely with TRC’s chief risk officer, Marc Faecher. In addition to collaborating with outside counsel to negotiate deals, Bragg is part of an internal team developing integration plans for acquired businesses with employees in new jurisdictions, as well as managing volumes of new data used in these projects across the country.
“At its core, my role is to provide counsel on the legal, commercial and human aspects of transactions and their resulting transitions,” Bragg explains. “It requires looking at things from a lot of different angles.”
Adding to the complexity, federal and state regulations surrounding data privacy have become much more stringent. With clients under increasing pressure to protect their data, consultants like TRC are having to follow suit.
“Being a utility consultant demands a solid investment in network security and operational resiliency,” Bragg says. “Advising these efforts made a lot of sense to me after my time with Weidlinger.”
According to Bragg, the arrival of COVID-19 led to even more confidentiality and data protection challenges as people began working primarily from home. In response, she’s collaborated with Rajeev Gollarahalli, TRC’s chief information officer, and Jonathan Sanchez, TRC’s chief information security officer, to understand client contractual data security requirements and to create internal policies.
“I enjoy that, as a company, we’re constantly intersecting digital security with data management and tech enablement, and that I have the opportunity to provide advice in such a cutting-edge area,” Bragg says. “Similar to my role at Weidlinger, an important part of my job is staying on top of advancements in information security, which are constantly evolving.”
Burning the midnight oil
While Bragg admits it can be challenging to bridge the traditional legal discipline with demands of the digital landscape, the variety of the work has made it more than worth it.
Attending the University of Connecticut, she graduated from its school of business and law, obtaining a dual degree—common now, but unusual at the time. Even then, Bragg knew that if she understood business operations, she could handle a variety of legal processes and be a better business partner to her client.
“The evolution of the in-house attorney as a key business partner has come to fruition. You need to understand all aspects of your client’s business and be able to know what is coming around the next corner,” Bragg says.
Inspired by her own experience—being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field—Bragg is a huge proponent of diversity and inclusion and has been active in opening office and career doors for other women. In 2015 and 2016, she volunteered as the director of the sector-based workforce development program, N.E.W., or Nontraditional Employment for Women. She still volunteers and coaches women whenever she can.
Although she always enjoys her work, her personal goals for 2022 include learning to play golf and kayaking around the many lakes of central North Carolina, where she’s lived since 2018.
“I miss the unrivaled restaurants in mid-town Manhattan, but I don’t miss the winters,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve embraced my new surroundings. Good prosciutto is hard to come by, but good barbecue definitely isn’t.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall IV 2021 Edition here.
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