Law partners, Paul Lewis (left) and Corey Bruning (right) stand with their Paralegal. Heidi Miller in the entry way to their offices. Before become work partners, Bruning and Lewis were college friends and were in each other’s weddings.
By Billy Stitz
When they met in the fall of 1997, Corey Bruning and Paul Lewis were just two undergraduate students at the University of South Dakota, one studying Health Care administration, and one studying Economics. 15 years later, they are partners at Bruning & Lewis Law Firm, PLLC in Flandreau.
Bruning, a Flandreau native, graduated with his economics degree and worked in Economic Services for many years, but when he got the itch to be his own boss, he turned to his old fraternity brother for help.
So Bruning returned to USD to get both his MBA and Law Degree, something that Lewis had done several years before him. “I guess he inspired me or something,” Bruning said laughing.
At the time of Bruning’s graduating, Lewis was Deputy State’s Attorney with Bill Ellingson and had been for three years, although he also didn’t start out as an attorney either. “When I graduated, I worked for Avera, but in 2008 I left them and joined Bill (Ellingson) in the fall of 2009 and started practicing law for the first time,” Lewis said. “Even though my mantra in college was ‘I am never going to practice law in my life’”.
But when Ellingson decided to step down, Lewis ran for the position unopposed. Leaving the door open for Lewis to team up with his pal to open their own private practice.
From adoption to divorce, the two of them have dealt with just about everything. “Some would argue we are the masters of nothing, but we have to know everything. Frankly, we have to be on top of our game to handle anything,” Lewis said.
Their abilities to handle any and all matters is what makes Flandreau such an appealing place for the two to practice law.
“Small town legal practice is actually incredible,” Lewis said. “We are given the opportunity to serve the needs of the people in so many different ways that somebody in Sioux Falls may not be able to do,” he added.
And in a time where the State of South Dakota is struggling to get small town representation, the two of them joined an already busy market with four other attorneys in town. But the two of them say the relationship with the rest of the bar in Flandreau is very positive.
“I know when I need help I can call Bill (Ellingson) and he still calls me about issues,” Lewis mentioned. “I wouldn’t say that John (Shaeffer) was a mentor of mine but I knew coming up that whenever I was in a pinch, he would be there to help me out. Same goes for Bob (Pesal) and Lori (Stanford).”
With becoming the State’s Attorney, Lewis was going to need to get years of information from Ellingson’s practice to his back room before the move to their office on S.Wind Street could be complete, something that is much easier said than done.
“Bill was State’s Attorney for many years and he had amassed so many files over at that other location,” Lewis said. So they brought in a little help from the county highway department. “The county highway department did a fantastic job. I’d say in about 12 minutes they moved decades worth of information for us.” That, combined with having to tear down wallpaper that can only be described as “dated”, they were finally able to get to work.
Just under a month from moving into their new building, Bruning and Lewis had their first jury trail, something that was new to both of them.
“We are expected as soon as we pass the law to be able to handle the most complicated capital cases out there, but let’s face it, you have to learn on your feet,” Lewis said about his first ever criminal jury trail.
But things have been running smoothly so far for the two. Lewis is busy with private cases as well as being the State’s and City’s Attorney, while Bruning works in his specialties and takes everything in to become the best lawyer he can be.
“I have seen a lot more State planning work come through the door than other areas of the law and I think that makes sense since that is what my background is in,” Bruning said. “But when it comes to criminal stuff, I tend to tag along (with Lewis) to make sure that I am learning all the stuff that I can off Paul before I get thrown into the baptism by fire.”
As stated before, they do just about everything, except they aren’t able to do intellectual property cases such as patents, but the duo’s slogan sums it up pretty nicely. “Big firm capabilities with the small town feel.”
With several options for residents to use as representation, the two were quick to point out that all of the options in town are great, and all of Flandreau’s attorneys do a wonderful job, you just have to find the one that fits you best.
“You have to be comfortable with your attorney, and you have to be on the same page as them,” Bruning mentioned.
Lewis has a similar thought, “Even if we aren’t the right fit, I encourage you to stop in and see if there is something that we can do to help you out.”