Nelson Mullins and USC

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP (aka Nelson Mullins) is South Carolina’s largest law firm (and one of the biggest in the country).  The firm has some impressive partners and alumni:

– Butler Derrick, former U.S. Representative for South Carolina’s 3rd congressional district, is a partner at the firm.

– Philip Lader, former administrator of the Small Business Administration and former United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, is a partner at the firm.

– Richard Riley, former Governor of South Carolina and United States Secretary of Education, is a partner at the firm.

– David H. Wilkins, former United States Ambassador to Canada, former Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives

These are just the “celebrity” members of the firm.  There are quite a few others that are less well known, but very influential due to their legal representations and consultations on behalf of companies, industries, governments, political entities and eminent individuals.

Nelson Mullins also has an influential presence with the University of South Carolina. Currently, two of Nelson Mullins’ attorneys sit on the Board of Trustees; William C. Hubbard (since 1986) and John C. von Lehe, Jr. (since 1998).  Nelson Mullins has three attorneys on the Board of Visitors’; Thad Westbrook (Board Vice Chair), Elizabeth Scott Moise and Reid T. Sherard.  Now, with the passing of long-time trustee Michael J. Mungo, the firm may improve its standing with Westbrook running to fill Mungo’s Trustee seat. 

(Ambassador Wilkins is Chairman of the Clemson University Board of Trustees)

Most of the members of the Board of Trustees are elected by vote of the General Assembly and most of the members of the Board of Visitors are selected by the Board of Trustees.

Nelson Mullins is a well known and prominent power broker in South Carolina’s legal, political and economic environments.  Often – VERY often – those three domains share a common habitat, providing Nelson Mullins with an extremely lush landscape on which to operate.

There is nothing unethical or even shady about the number of Nelson Mullins employees ensconced on USC’s boards.  Further, one’s affiliation with the law firm shouldn’t be either a qualification or disqualification for memberbership on either board.

Still, is it in the BEST interest of the University, its students, alumni, supporters and investors for there to be SO MUCH participation represented by one entity?

DUTIES OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES. The Board shall define the mission, role and scope of the University System and each of its major component institutions, shall establish the general policies of the University System, shall lay out the University System’s broad program of educational activity, shall approve the budget for the next fiscal year, and shall provide ultimate accountability to the public and the General Assembly. 

FUNCTIONS OF THE BOARD OF VISITORS. The Board of Visitors shall assist the Board of Trustees and the President in the overall advancement of the University of South Carolina – Columbia, and where appropriate, the University of South Carolina System. The Board of Visitors, with thorough information and staff support, will seek to enhance the image of the University and the statewide system, encourage alumni participation, invite public and private support, and facilitate internal and external communication.



2 thoughts on “Nelson Mullins and USC

  1. Good report. I hope the legislature will take notice. The lawyers at Nelson Mullins are good people; however, three USC Board members from any one organization is too many.
    I looked on the USC website and already TEN of the Board members are lawyers. Surely the legislature can find a qualified person from another profession.


  2. It would be interesting to see how many NM attorneys serve on K-12 school boards…. NM’s Attorney Ed White voted to approve a very large architectural contract in our district. The architectural firm was represented by NM. Should have simply recused himself.


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