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.