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?
- 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.
- 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.