Features

Julia Tat – Fluor

Fluor attorney merges legal and technical knowledge to manage contracts and projects

Julia Tat went against the grain of her family’s tradition when she became an attorney. Not only are her parents engineers, she has aunts and uncles who are, too—enough to make someone think the field is a genetic trait.

Tat, who emigrated with her family from Romania more than 30 years ago, says that while she began college as a biology major, she took an interest in social sciences courses. She viewed law school as a natural progression of those studies because it’s a way to help unjuliaderstand human interactions.

Tat’s currently senior counsel at Fluor, a global company that supports customers with engineering, procurement, off-site manufacturing, construction management and maintenance services.

While Tat doesn’t need to be a licensed engineer, she says the technical knowledge she’s learned has been essential for her legal work supporting Fluor’s urban solutions business segment. The segment focuses on mining, metals and fertilizers, advanced technologies and manufacturing, life sciences and infrastructure.

“I support our sales and operations team through the pursuit lifecycle and negotiating the contract, and putting together the commercial deal with them,” Tat says. “I have learned a lot about things that have nothing to do with law or contracts, but it makes it that much more interesting and me a better attorney.”

Providing global expertise

Fluor is headquartered in Irving, Texas, and has a global workforce of more than 50,000. The company, which is more than 110 years old, was ranked No. 259 of the Fortune 500 companies in 2022. Tat’s office is in Greenville, South Carolina, and she says although the company is one of the city’s largest employers, even the locals aren’t always sure what it does beyond engineering.

Suffice to say it’s complex—Fluor’s work ranges from providing feasibility studies for clients considering expansion or new capital investments to providing the planning, design and construction expertise to clients building microchip or lithium battery manufacturing plants all over the world.

Fluor’s clients are building facilities with exacting technical requirements such as clean rooms for microchips, hygienic pipes for life sciences and pharmaceuticals, and enhanced processing plants for working with lithium.

Tat says she also needs some knowledge of things like what kinds of foundation supports and pilings might be needed for soil conditions where a facility will be built.

“We work with clients making everything from potato chips to microchips. These are very precise environments and all the moving parts can be awe-inspiring,” Tat says. “Our projects tend to be far from residential areas. Our expertise really comes inside a plant, whether it’s helping design and install pipes, robots or the systems for manufacturing equipment.”

Seeing projects through

She’s involved from the start as the urban solutions division considers whether and how to bid on a job. She works with the business development team to assess potential risks in a project and to develop a strategy as well as the compliance team to meet requirements of regulations such as the CHIPS and Science Act. The act was passed in 2022 to help fund efforts to bring microchip manufacturing back to the U.S.

When the company is responding to a request for proposals, Tat assists in the review and then drafts and negotiates the agreement with the client—but that doesn’t complete her work.

In fact, Tat continues to monitor and assess Fluor’s projects—including site visits that take her around the world, making sure contract provisions are being carried out and that people on-site understand the deal and terms of a contract.

Tat also helps keep Fluor’s employees safe on the job, adhering to company safety standards that don’t vary wherever the company works. For instance, at a project in Southeast Asia, she was part of the project team that helped ensure employees building a manufacturing plant had indoor rest areas, including restrooms, instead of just tents, to allow them to get out of the heat and the monsoon weather.

She’s also proud of Fluor’s efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the company. Those include affinity groups for women and Black people that are open to all. Tat says she also tries to be visible in her role as a senior leader to show women what’s possible for them at the company.

In-house expertise

After leaving Romania in 1990, Tat’s family settled in South Carolina. Tat earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Charleston in 2005. Before enrolling in law school, she was an administrative clerk at a private law firm in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

She earned her J.D. from Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law in 2011 while also serving an externship in the U.S. District Court of Delaware for Federal Magistrate Judge Mary Pat Thynge.

After graduating, Tat became an associate attorney with the Philadelphia firm of German, Gallagher & Murtagh and represented self-insurers, insurance carriers and third-party administrators in Pennsylvania. While there, she also worked on New Jersey workers’ compensation matters.

In 2014, Tat returned to South Carolina and worked in private practice defense firms before coming in-house as counsel with Fluor.

Outside the office, Tat enjoys getting outdoors as she gardens, hikes and plays with her two dogs.

She says she had aspired to work in-house after getting her J.D. but needed some practical legal experience first. And though she jokes she’s the black sheep of the family because she’s not an engineer, Tat wanted her in-house work to be in a technical field.

“I’m usually involved in and aware of how the project is proceeding throughout, which can be years,” Tat says. “That can be pretty rare for attorneys and I find it very fulfilling to be part of the greater operations team, not just the law department.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Fall II 2023 Edition here.

Published on: October 22, 2023

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