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David Koysza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACC South Carolina Chapter Member Spotlight: David Koysza, Senior Counsel, Boeing South Carolina

When did you “go in-house,” and what prompted your decision? 

I joined Boeing in 2012—it’ll be ten years this spring. Before that, I was a litigation partner at Wyche in Greenville and a lawyer at the Department of Justice in DC. I loved my time at Wyche and colleagues there, an extraordinary group of lawyers who remain close friends. Boeing was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The company had just rolled out its first South Carolina-built 787 Dreamliner and was preparing to expand its footprint in Charleston County. Also, Boeing’s Law Department was led by Mike Luttig, who had been a judge on the Fourth Circuit when I clerked there. Ten years on, I’m still grateful that he and Boeing’s head lawyer in Charleston Mark Fava gave me a shot.

What do you enjoy most about being an in-house counsel?

Building real things. Our law offices are 20 feet from the 787 Dreamliner assembly line, so it’s hard to lose sight of our objective. Our colleagues at Boeing include some of the most gifted engineers and other professionals in the world, literal rocket scientists.

Also, I really enjoy my focus on litigation as an in-house lawyer. We get to resolve disputes in creative ways that serve the long-term interests of our company. Sometimes the results are driven by the pure legal merits, but more often they are driven by bigger-picture commercial interests, ones that I might not have had the freedom to consider as an outside counsel.

Do you miss anything about your prior position? 

The friendships. Life in a firm can be tough—late nights, unpredictable schedules, difficult cases—but the shared experiences forge deep connections. That’s harder to replicate inside a big company, although we have our moments.

Have you had any strong mentors in your career? What did they teach you?

For sure. There have been many, but three stand out:

My first boss, Billy Wilkins, then-Chief Judge of the Fourth Circuit, taught me to treat everyone equally and with respect. He taught this in the most effective way: by example, inside and outside of the courtroom.

Henry Parr at Wyche, one of the most skilled lawyers I know, taught me to keep my family first—that professional success is meaningless if it wrecks your personal relationships.

Mike Luttig at Boeing stretched me and all Boeing lawyers and helped us grow. “The most fun you can have is to gather smart people into one place to solve big problems.” He was right.

What matter or accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

I couldn’t have been prouder to receive the “Mentor of the Year” award from the SC Supreme Court in 2019. I had a blast getting to know my mentee, a new lawyer here in Charleston, and learned as much from her as she might have from me. She has since begun a successful litigation career and was even featured on Fox News nationally for her work. The SC Bar’s mentoring program is a true gift to mentors and mentees alike.

What key advice would you give to new in-house lawyers or those contemplating going in house?

Talk with your family early and often about opportunities that might be coming down the pike. Treat them as super-delegates in your electoral college, and make decisions together. They’ll be more willing to go on an adventure with you if they know they always get a vote.

Take care of yourself. While at the firm, I read a book called The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz, who also wrote a column for Dealbook. His message: Life is richer when you sleep enough, eat well, and exercise. It was simple advice but it sure changed my life.

“Be fascinated, not fascinating.” Or, “Tell the story, don’t be the story.” As lawyers, crises are our stock-in-trade. Stay calm and collected. If we’re not a port in the storm, who will be?

Has the COVID pandemic changed your perspective in any way?

It’s been so tough for so many, but maybe there have been a few silver linings. The world seemed to pause and take a breath last year, a moment to reflect on what’s important. I enjoyed the time with my family while working remotely at home, and my kids, ages 9 and 12, got a closer look at my work (“You talk to a screen and read things out loud all day.”).

Aside from the law, what professions are interesting to you?

I’d love, at some point down the road, to start a mediation practice, helping companies resolve their disputes. I’ve worked with very talented mediators over the years, and I think a mediator with deep in-house experience could offer a fresh perspective.

Separately, it would be a thrill to do something entrepreneurial and mission-driven. Bonton Farms in Texas is inspiring. It’s an urban farm founded by a former Blackstone executive who, after a personal crisis, decided to leave the corporate world and get to work changing the actual world. He built a small farm on a vacant lot in a troubled part of Dallas, since expanding it to 40 acres. The farm will hire just about anyone who shows up wanting a chance.

Are you an “early bird” or “night owl”?

Early bird. Better to launch when the waters are calm.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

Being a husband and dad is the best part of life—it is life. When I can squeeze it in, adventure travel seems to get my mind off of work better than lying on a beach. In recent years I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, hiked the coast of Wales, and fly-fished in Patagonia. I’ve run a couple of marathons, including NYC, and when Covid hit, I picked up triathlon, which had been on my bucket list. I’m scheduled, legs willing, to run my first Ironman in November.

What book or movie do you recommend, and why?

I really enjoyed The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse’s book about raising kids to be self-sufficient. The Second Mountain by David Brooks will get you thinking about what’s next. My favorite movie is “Top Gun,” the most perfect film ever made, and my wife and I are glued to “Succession,” “Billions,” “Yellowstone,” and a few shows on Bravo that I won’t name.

How long have you been an ACC member, and what is your favorite part about it?

Ten years, thanks to Boeing’s corporate membership. Evan Slavitt, general counsel of AVX in Fountain Inn, described it well: The ACC is one of the few professional organizations whose members have no business to give or get; everyone is there simply because they want to be.

 


Mark Brandenburg Member Spotlight

ACC South Carolina Chapter Member Spotlight: Mark Brandenburg, General Counsel, The Citadel

When did you “go in-house,” and what prompted your decision? 

I joined the staff at The Citadel in 2005.    I worked at Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms for the six years before I became the first general counsel at The Citadel.  I went to Barnwell Whaley with the hope of doing work for The Citadel as outside counsel.  Over the six years I was there, my work for the school gradually consumed my practice.  The school decided to hire its first general counsel, and I was fortunate to be selected.  

What do you enjoy most about being a general counsel?

I love working for a client that has so much meaning to me. I am a graduate of The Citadel – Class of 1990.  My father was a graduate – Class of 1951 – so I grew up coming to parades and football games, etc.  Both of my brothers graduated from The Citadel, as did numerous cousins, uncles, etc. and of course, I have hundreds of friends who are graduates.   I enjoy going to work every day and trying to prevent problems – practicing proactive law, so to speak. Of course, there is PLENTY of reactive law – problem solving, etc.  I feel valued at the school, and I feel like I am making a difference. 

Do you miss anything about your prior position? 

I often say that the best and worst part of my job is that I do not see other lawyers.  Although I am not the only lawyer on campus – we have several professors who have law degrees – I am the only lawyer who is practicing law.  I desperately miss seeing my friends in the bar.  My other focus in private practice was construction litigation.  There was a relatively small group of attorneys that I saw in most of my cases. They were all very good friends, so I miss seeing them on a regular basis. I miss seeing lawyers “in general,” though.  I miss hearing about the wide diversity in the practice of law, the challenges that other lawyers face, and the creative ways that lawyers find to solve problems.

Have you had any strong mentors in your career? What did they teach you?

My first job after graduating from law school was as a law clerk for Judge William L. Howard.  I worked for him for two years, at an incredible time in his career:  he was a Circuit Court judge during my first year.  During the second, he served on the S.C. Court of Appeals, filling Judge Bell’s seat after his untimely death.  During that year, though, Chief Justice Finney appointed him to handle the Susan Smith case, in Union, South Carolina, so I finished my clerkship working on that case.  I learned plenty about law, working with other lawyers, working with the public and the press, but much more about life “in general” from him:  patience, humility, and, more than anything, kindness.  He spent those two years, and the twenty-five plus since, drilling two words into me:  Be nice.  I have repeated that mantra to cadets, colleagues, and friends, and I hope I have lived up to it. 

Dawes Cooke has also been an incredible friend, mentor, and colleague – even before  I joined Barnwell Whaley, and certainly since I have been at The Citadel.  He has been the school’s outside counsel since the mid-1980’s; the firm has served as the school’s law firm since the 1950’s (at least).  His knowledge and experience as a lawyer is incredible, but again, the lessons outside the conference room and courtroom have been more important.  As a young lawyer, I wanted to make every argument / fight over every issue / discovery question / etc.  He taught me to look at the bigger picture.  Some of his typical advice:  “If we are probably going to have give someone a document, then do so voluntarily, and get credit for it, rather than making them file a motion, and have the judge force  you to do so.”

What matter or accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

Until this year, I would have pointed to our creation of a team on campus that seeks to identify and help students who are at risk.  We created it after the Virginia Tech tragedy.  I played a major role in writing the policy and I meet with the team weekly during the academic year.  We have worked with many cadets and made a difference in lots of lives.

Given the events over the last year, though, I have to say that navigating the perils and pitfalls of COVID over the past year is my proudest accomplishment.  We brought cadets back in August, gave them an extended Christmas break between Thanksgiving and mid-January, and will send this year’s senior class off with an in-person graduation.  We did not have furloughs, layoffs, RIFS, or cut any programs or athletic teams. We had struggles and overcame hurdles, but overall, we have had a successful year.  I played a small part in that success, but have been involved every day since the world changed on March 13, 2020, and I am incredibly proud of our work this year.  

What key advice would you give to new in-house lawyers or those contemplating going in house?

Understand that you are part of a team.  You have a key role in the organization, but it is also a limited role.  I think often of a line at the end of the movie Bull Durham.  Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis, tells Tim Robbins, as Robbins is headed to the major leagues: “You have to play this game with fear and arrogance.” That advice applies to in-house counsel.  We play a special role in providing advice to our clients, and we have an ethical obligation to act independently and zealously.  I interpret those responsibilities as requiring me to speak my mind and be fearless in defending it.   As lawyers, we look at problems from a different perspective, with different education, training and experience (especially for those of us who were once litigators).  At the same time, though, our role is limited. I frequently remind my colleagues at The Citadel: “I do not make decisions.  My job is to provide you with my best advice.  I will support your decision, whether it follows my advice or not.”  Of course, we have certain ethical obligations in limited situations when our clients do not follow our advice. Identifying those situations and acting is probably the biggest challenge.  

Has the COVID pandemic changed your perspective in any way?

I spent about two months working from home.  With email, a cell phone, and Zoom, there were times when I felt there was little difference between being in my office at school and being in my office at home.   As the weeks continued, though, I realized how much I missed by not being at the office - both personally and professionally.  I enjoy working with my colleagues every day, so I missed seeing them. But, I quickly concluded I was not nearly as effective as the lawyer working from home as I was working in my office.  I missed so many “unofficial” / unscheduled / informal / chance interactions.  I realized I did not have the full picture in many situations.  I learned the value of the day-to-day interactions, both in official meetings and everywhere else.  I was eager to get back to the office, and I am confident I provide much better service than I did from home.  

Aside from the law, what professions are interesting to you?

Teaching.  Of course, that’s an easy - and perhaps obvious - answer for the general counsel for a college.  But, before I joined Barnwell Whaley, I was an adjunct professor at The Citadel.  I occasionally teach a “Freshman 101” class at The Citadel, and frequently give presentations on FERPA, FOIA, Clery, Title IX, and a host of other topics to cadets, faculty, staff, and administrators.  I feel like I am “teaching” in many of those situations, and based on both my experience as an adjunct and my observation of “real” professors over the past 16 years, I have a tremendous respect and admiration for authentic teachers.  

Are you an “early bird” or “night owl”?

At my age, effectively “neither.”  During my second and third years in law school, I was a “residential assistant” in the undergrad dorms.  My dorm did not get quiet until after midnight, so I typically went to the law school between 10 and 11 at night, and studied until 2 or 3 am.  There was a group of us on that schedule.  As a result, I did not wake up until 10 or 11 am; most of my classes were in the afternoon and evening.

When I began my career, as a law clerk, I tried to get to the office before Judge Howard, which was usually between 8 and 9 am. During that time, and for a few years afterward (perhaps until our oldest child was born) I was able to stay up late - til midnight or slightly later.  In the last few years, though, I have lost that ability, and find myself going to bed between 10 and 11.

Of course, many of my colleagues are retired military officers, so they are used to getting to work between 7 and 8, at the latest. I am famous, in house, for not meeting that schedule.  I arrive around 9 (hopefully), and frequently stay at the office later than most of my colleagues.  My wife and I typically eat dinner between 7 and 8,  but my day ends at home between 10 and 11.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

Fishing from my boat and golf, with roughly equal success.  I am typically the worst golfer in any foursome, even though my father gave me my first set of clubs when I was 9 years old.  Considering my skill (or lack thereof), though, it’s hard for my friends to believe I have been “playing” that long.  

My fishing is not much better.  I know a few places around Charleston where I can catch small fish, but I don’t fish for food.  If I did, we would starve.

Otherwise, I am a Citadel football fan in the fall, and I am a Duke basketball fan during the winter.  I go to all home football games and at least one Duke basketball game each year.  

What book or movie do you recommend, and why?

Bull Durham, above, is one of my all-time favorites, though of course, there is absolutely nothing “law-related” about it.

My wife and I are fans of Masterpiece, on PBS.  (Growing up, I NEVER would have predicted saying that.)  They recently showed a “re-boot” of James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small.”  We recorded every episode and have watched them several times.  I have gone back and read the books again; I read them - at my mother’s suggestion - when I was growing up.  Again, there is nothing “law-related” in the books.  But, the stories are wonderful, and a throw-back to a simpler time in many ways.  Of course, it was also a much more difficult time, in many ways.  But, the small-town life, and his descriptions of the countryside, the people, and the life-style in general are an incredibly attractive alternative to the frenetic pace at which we live life today.

How long have you been an ACC member, and what is your favorite part about it?

“Officially,” about a year.  I convinced our VP for Finance to budget the membership fee during COVID, as I wanted (desperately needed) access to the online resources.  The written resources, of course, are fabulous, but as with my “specific” professional group, the National Association of College and Univesity Attorneys, the people are the best part of ACC.  Jeff Winkler, formerly with InterTech, and Ben Glass, at Ogletree Deakins, among many others, have been very generous in inviting me to events for years.  In so doing, they have given me the ability to see lawyers, interact with lawyers, etc.  A few of us - all ACC members -  try to get together for lunch once a month. So, being able to see people who deal daily with similar issues as those I do, who are South Carolina lawyers, is invaluable, and easily the best part of ACC. 

 


 

Nici Comer

ACC South Carolina Chapter Member Spotlight: Nici Comer, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel 

When did you “go in-house,” and what prompted your decision?

I joined SouthState in June 2012.  While I always thought that I would actively seek out an in-house role at some point, the opportunity to join SouthState fell in my lap when I wasn’t looking for it.  My husband (who was also in private practice at the time) encouraged me to accept the job, and the firm with which I was a partner was extremely supportive.  Their positive reactions helped me get past my reservations about trying something wholly different and outside of my comfort zone.  

What do you enjoy most about being a general counsel? Do you miss anything about the firm?

Every day is different. I deal with unique matters and a number of different people daily across the company.  It keeps things interesting.  When I initially went in-house, I was the first and only attorney at SouthState.  When you are used to being surrounded by others that understand legal risks and suddenly are on your own, it’s a bit isolating.  In the years since, we’ve built a team of smart, experienced professionals.

Have you had any strong mentors in your career? What did they teach you? So much – it’s a big list.  Maybe the most useful lesson for an in-house attorney is how to take criticism or be challenged without being personally offended.  Most days, thick skin is a mandate.  Other important lessons include fixing my mistakes, being fair, courteous and respectful, and being open to differing perspectives. 

What matter or accomplishment are you most proud of in your career? 

I’m still practicing!  “Mama Guilt” is a very real thing in my life, and it’s a very difficult balancing act – wife, mother of 3, attorney.  As we all know, being an attorney is a demanding job that can take a physical, mental and emotional toll.  The fact that my mentors have been flexible and have allowed me to adjust my daily schedule as needed so I can meet the needs of my family has been instrumental in my staying power. 

What key advice would you give to new in-house lawyers or those contemplating going in house?

  1. Learn to drink from a firehose.  In-house departments are typically lean in staffing and extremely busy.  There is never a shortage of work or needy clients.

  1. Be comfortable with the gray.  While certain issues are definitely black and white (criminal behavior and ethical issues are non-starters, for instance), most of the issues in-house attorneys consider are tied to risk.  There is not always a right answer, but the potential results and cost of a particular decision may be significantly different.  To be effective, you have to be willing to weigh a particular risk’s probability and potential cost to come up with the better solution, not the perfect one. 

Has the COVID pandemic changed your perspective in any way?

I think it underscores the need we have to be agile to accommodate different needs – both within the company and for our customers.  If the last year has taught us anything, I hope one takeaway is that a person can work in a remote environment effectively and efficiently – and sometimes better -- than he or she can from a desk in an office. We are all in this together, and we need to do more to support the individual needs of our employees. 

Aside from the law, what professions are interesting to you?

I’ve always wanted to own an independent bookstore – my dream job.  I’m always fiddling with a business plan, scoping out locations, brainstorming about what books I’ll stock. If I’m lucky, it’ll be my second career.  That, or a National Geographic photographer looking for snow leopards. 

Are you an “early bird” or “night owl”? Night owl, although I don’t stay up late anymore.  That ship sailed once I had kids and realized that toddlers really do wake up at the crack of dawn. 

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I read a lot. While the pandemic definitely introduced a “Covid fatigue” that makes it harder to focus on books with weighty topics/plots, I usually have a book (or three) sitting close by, no matter the day or location.  I also love to travel and have ever handy a short list of possible travel destinations. 

What book or movie do you recommend, and why? Anyone asking me this question should be ready for a list. I struggle with answering this question without better understanding the genre(s) a person finds interesting. Depending on how one answers, I might recommend one of the following: 

  • Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.  The premise of Just Mercy-- the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice--is easy to say, but hard to understand.  If you have ever wondered about those whom our justice system fails, read this book. Then read A Knock at Midnight, by Brittany Barnett.      

  • Long Bright River, by Liz Moore.  A police procedural with the underlying backdrop of opioid addiction/epidemic.  Almost 500 pages and I read it in a day.

  • Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson.  A family drama mostly taking place during World War 2.  It’s hard to explain the premise, but, in my opinion, it’s a masterpiece. 

  • Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore.  A myriad of strong women telling the story of an unthinkable crime and its aftermath in West Texas in the mid-70s.  Trigger warnings galore, but powerful storytelling.

  • Anything by Margaret Atwood, although The Blind Assassin is my favorite.   Who would have thought that an author could successfully mix so many genres (suspense, fantasy, romance) and come up with something so mind-blowing.   

If you prefer a book on the lighter side, I recommend The Flatshare, by Beth O’Leary, or Beach Read, by Emily Henry.  Both are delightful but not without substance.  For more recommendations, check out my IG reading page, @bookish.sodacity. 

How long have you been an ACC member, and what is your favorite part about it? 

Since about 2 days after I went in-house and realized what I’d done.  My favorite part is connecting with others – including members of other chapters with whom I started my legal career many moons ago.   

 


 

Evan Slavitt

ACC South Carolina Chapter Member Spotlight: Evan Slavitt, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary

When did you “go in-house,” and what prompted your decision?

I started with AVX in 2007 after twenty-six years as a trial lawyer with the government and private practice. AVX had been a client and it was an opportunity to do something very different at a time when, if it did not work out, I could still regenerate a practice. It was a great decision and, to my amazement, I have been at AVX for fourteen years and still love the work.

What do you enjoy most about being a general counsel? Do you miss anything about the firm?

Being a trial lawyer is like being on CSI – there is a dead body and everyone is arguing about who is responsible. In this job, I have the chance to help the company avoid disaster in the first place. I have the opportunity to get involved in new things all the time. For example, who knew I would have to learn so much about data privacy laws in Europe, environmental law in Israel, or arbitration in Shanghai? What I miss most about private practice was, as a trial lawyer, putting together a team to focus on one big thing. As a general counsel, my day is a cascade of interruptions.

Have you had any strong mentors in your career? What did they teach you?

One of my partners, Bob Sylvia, was both a great trial lawyer and a good man. He taught me that you can be a strong advocate and a law firm partner and still avoid being a jackhole about it. I have tried to mentor junior attorneys the way he did – with good humor and a sense that we are all in this together.

What matter or accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

Clients come and go, disputes are transitory, but who you are is what counts. I have made it my policy never to let the antics of others or the difficulties of the day change who I am or how I practice law. Even more important, I kept my law practice in bounds so I would have time for my family.

What key advice would you give to new in-house lawyers or those contemplating going in house?

Try to keep perspective. Your job is to be the adult in the room and to keep your head while everyone else is losing theirs. Read my article in the SC Lawyer: “Nobody Cheers for the Umpires”

Has the COVID pandemic changed your perspective in any way?

I am amazed at how much I can get done from home and how much I do not care whether my outside counsel are in their work office. In fact, I can concentrate better when I am not in my office. I may move to a 4/1 schedule even after COVID is over.

Aside from the law, what professions are interesting to you?

Shepherd. Actually, I never really thought about being anything other than a lawyer.

Are you an “early bird” or “night owl”?

I am definitely a night owl. Until I had children, I did not realize that 5 am even existed.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I read, take long walks with the dogs, and drink the occasional glass of rye. When COVID is not a thing, I enjoy travelling and spending time with my children and grandchildren.

What book or movie do you recommend, and why?

The Hilary Mantel trilogy about Cromwell (also a lawyer) is wonderful. I have also just finished the new biography of US Grant which is terrific.

How long have you been an ACC member, and what is your favorite part about it?

One of the first things I did on moving in-house was to join ACC in 2007. It is the best professional organization I have ever joined because we can neither send business to each other or get business from each other. So we can be entirely collegial and have great discussions and educational programs that are directly useful to me.

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