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The Black General Counsel Project: Tetra Tech’s Preston Hopson

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Preston Hopson, senior vice president and general counsel of Pasadena, Calif.-based Tetra Tech, Inc., believes that improvements in general counsel diversity have come in part because companies are increasingly promoting from the pool of qualified candidates they already have

“With the recent renewed push for diversity from shareholders, clients, employees, and sectors of the community, these individuals are now being given the chance to do the job for which they are more than prepared,” Hopson said in a recent Bloomberg Law survey.

Black general counsel now make up over 5% of all general counsel in the Fortune 1000, a significant milestone tracked by the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative and first reported by Bloomberg Law. We reached out to over 50 Black legal chiefs whose companies were in the Fortune 1000 in 2019 or 2020 to learn more about their careers and diversity at the top of the legal industry and heard from 39 of them.

Hopson joined the engineering services and consulting firm in 2018. Prior to that, he spent a decade with infrastructure firm AECOM and was a senior associate at O’Melveny & Myers.

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: What are some key matters you and your team are working on right now?

Preston Hopson: We are hard at work on issues that our operations will face in the post-pandemic world. These include sustained remote working arrangements, corporate governance and social responsibility in a time of increased activism and awareness, global IP litigation and protection amid closed borders, enhanced cybersecurity threats and privacy issues, and M&A transactions in an uncertain economic climate.

BL: What’s the best leadership advice you’ve gotten, from mentors or others?

PH: Pick your battles wisely. I’ve learned that some battles are not worth waging, much less winning. Also, my mother has always said that although education is important, common sense will take you far. My business partners are not looking to me for esoteric legal theories; they expect practical, easy-to-understand advice.

BL: What advice would you give you lawyers who want to go in-house?

PH: In a world of increasing specialization, do not be afraid to explore everything. As a law firm associate, I volunteered for assignments in every area imaginable—securities, real estate, M&A, litigation, corporate governance, employment, IP, and compliance. Gaining that breadth of experience prepared me for the general counsel role, where I juggle all of these issues and more on a daily basis.

BL: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you know now?

PH: There is more than one path to where I want to go—and the paths I travel could lead to a better destination than I envisioned. I learned to embrace the unexpected and accept unconventional opportunities to gain valuable experiences that prepared me to be GC. Prime example: I never imagined I would spend an hour onstage in a one-on-one conversation with President Obama in front of 2,000 lawyers [at an Association of Corporate Counsel conference in 2018].

BL: Why do you think the number of Black general counsel has been on the rise? Have you observed any changes in the past few years that have contributed to recent increases in representation?

PH: I recently heard someone comment that it is not that qualified Black general counsel candidates traditionally have been overlooked; it is that they were “never looked.” I know many Black attorneys who, like me, have clerked on federal courts, gained experience at large law firms, developed their skills in-house at major corporations, and are truly ready to lead corporate legal departments. What has changed now? Well, they are finally getting a look. In addition, companies finally have been willing to look beyond the normal pool of existing public company general counsel to consider deputy and assistant general counsel who have long been in the room, making important decisions, leading teams, and supporting the board of directors and executive leadership. With the recent renewed push for diversity from shareholders, clients, employees and sectors of the community, these individuals are now being given the chance to do the job for which they are more than prepared.

BL: When you’re looking to hire outside counsel, how does diversity come into play in your evaluation of law firms?

PH: Whether I am staffing a complex litigation matter or an international M&A deal, I want to assemble the best possible team that also resembles the world in which we are doing business. On these matters, we will encounter judges, juries, counsel, and business counterparts of all backgrounds and I want team members who can relate to the diversity of those backgrounds and experiences. The data shows that diverse teams lead to better outcomes. Furthermore, diversity is important to our shareholders and also to our clients. We regularly are asked what we are doing to support diversity in all facets of our business—from employee recruiting, to the use of suppliers and subcontractors, to the law firms we engage. It is important that we have diverse attorneys staffed—and in leadership roles—on our matters.

BL: What opportunities or changes has the pandemic brought to your job and your team?

PH: It has allowed me to help shape our business and how we will operate in the new, post-pandemic world. As I have responsibility for the legal, compliance, and human resources functions, I have the ability to meaningfully contribute at all levels of our organization. It has made for a few sleepless nights, but also for the most professionally challenging and rewarding period of my career.

Questions by Ruiqi Chen and Lisa Helem.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com;
Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

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