Profiles in Practice: Pharaoh Lewis

Pharoah-Lewis-400Be yourself; be authentic!” That is the advice Pharaoh Lewis wants to share with new attorneys. Lewis works in the product liability/mass tort and business litigation practice groups at Nilan Johnson Lewis.

Hailing from New Orleans, Lewis has embraced its heritage rich in flavor and upbeat attitude which drives him in the Minnesota legal scene. Having moved to St. Paul’s historic Rondo neighborhood at age nine, he embraced the culture and heritage within that community as well, and strives to stay in touch with his extended family and to encourage others to do their best.

Notwithstanding the fact he has spent most of his life in Minnesota, Lewis and his family maintain a strong connection to where it all began. “We try to keep a lot of the New Orleans-style family traditions. We try to go back and visit about once a year to stay connected to those roots,” said Lewis. “[New Orleans] is a pretty cool place and culture to come from.” 

After graduating from Woodbury High School in 2008, Lewis attended Barry University in Miami, Florida. According to Lewis, Barry was an “eye opening experience in terms of culture” and great weather. In addition to focusing on academics, he found time to learn about the many ethnicities and cultures within the area, and built strong relationships with a diverse group of new friends not only from those areas, but from across the United States. “It was cool to come in contact with lots of other people at the age of 18 and 19,” said Lewis. Upon completion of his studies at Barry University, Lewis received an undergraduate and master’s degree in sports management. 

His passion for sports includes a loyal following of the Louisiana State University Tigers, New Orleans Saints, and New Orleans Pelicans—although he does maintain a hometown loyalty to the Minnesota Timberwolves, for whom he worked after college and externed for during law school.

After completing his undergraduate and graduate studies, Lewis attended law school at the University of St. Thomas. “I wanted to be an ‘agent of change’ and ultimately to give back to the community in a substantial way,” said Lewis. After an initial focus purely on sports management, he changed paths toward law school, intrigued by what he could do with a law degree. The main draw was a flexibility and leeway in terms of professional skills and career opportunities.

Lewis finds strength and character from his mother, Verona Mitchell, who moved to Minnesota on her own with four young children. In order to succeed as a lawyer, and serve others, he has become involved in various legal and civic organizations. He describes his law degree as one of the tools within his “toolbox” to offer positive change.

Lewis has seized opportunities made available to him because of his legal education, including clerking for Target’s law department, the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, Judge Amy Dawson, and Judge Karen Janisch. In addition, closer to his heart, “I have had the opportunity to be involved in the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and recently worked at a legal clinic sponsored by the city of Minneapolis’ Black Business Week.” Lewis explained, “We helped entrepreneurs of color either review or create a business plan to start their own company. They already have some of the building blocks for their company and just wanted reassurance.”

At this clinic, Lewis provided guidance and free legal advice to up-and-coming enterprisers. “That felt really good, to give back,” said Lewis. “That is part of having the ‘toolbox’ and being an ‘agent for change’ – to offer things you have learned from your legal education or legal practice and offer it to folks who might not have access to it right away.” Lewis continued, “What might take you 30 minutes or an hour or two could be monumental to someone’s outlook on life or their day. It could help them move to the next phase of their plan.” 

Mentorship and talking to the younger generation is also important to Lewis. His goal is to expose them to different lifestyles. “This is part of my legacy,” said Lewis, who is looking for more opportunities as he gains experience in years as a lawyer and developing a reputation as a trusted member of the bar and larger community. “I am fortunate enough to have my network, friends, and other contacts.” By keeping in contact with this group, he hopes to stay plugged in.

Lewis has a simple reason that being engaged is important – he wants others to have someone to look up to. This helps explain why he relies on others, mainly his family, as a source of strength through challenging times. He was also recently married. “There are always folks that you can look up to or model yourself after. There is already someone out there that is willing and able to help mentor you.” Lewis concluded, “Do not be afraid to be yourself or to pursue your interests no matter how crazy.”

By Aaron Frederickson

Mr. Frederickson is the founder of MSP Compliance Solutions, which is based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  He has nearly two decades of legal practice experience in the areas of workers’ compensation, personal injury, and Medicare/Medicaid compliance. His passions also include assisting low income persons via pro bono legal representation.