Ten Questions With Polsinelli Shareholder and Award Winning Litigator, Ghislaine G. Torres Bruner, Esq.

Ghislaine G. Torres Bruner, Esq. grew up in South Florida and attended Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove for high school. She always knew that she wanted to have a career that involved public health. Bruner volunteered to assist children with various disabilities at a young age and worked at Mercy Hospital during her junior and senior high school years.

Upon graduating from high school, Bruner attended The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and obtained an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in Women’s Health. She focused her studies on women’s biological, psychological, and social makeup to better improve women’s opportunities. Her coursework included developmental biology, endocrinology, physics, biochemistry, sociology, neuropsychology, anthropology, women’s studies, and Latin American studies. Bruner became fascinated by issues involving environmental and social impacts upon women, so she decided to pursue a Master of Science in Public Health with a concentration in environmental health and safety.

During her Master of Public Health coursework, she studied epidemiology, statistics, industrial hygiene, and environmental health. This course study gave her a strong basis in understanding environmental factors such as air quality and water quality, which led her to pursue in-depth studies on how environmental and occupational hazards and pollution could impact maternal and child health. During her public health studies, Bruner had an opportunity to work at a medical practice. She became interested in health policy and issues such as fraud, abuse, and reimbursements. She became interested in health policy and laws surrounding health care.

After much discussion with several professors, Bruner decided that the career that overlapped laws and policy, health, and the environment, was law. She attended law school in South Florida and began practicing law there. Bruner represented physicians, nurses, hospitals, and nursing homes in medical-legal actions and practiced there for about 5-6 years and then had the opportunity to move to Denver.

When Bruner arrived in Colorado, she quickly learned that it was the energy industry’s epicenter— with a growing oil and gas industry. Bruner wanted to know more about the energy sector and oil and gas development, so after practicing law for about nine years, she decided to obtain a master’s in law degree in Environmental Health and Policy from the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. She realized that her strong science and public health foundation had paved the way for a legal practice in natural resources law and energy litigation, which is her current focus.

Bruner is currently a shareholder in Polsinelli P.C.’s commercial litigation and energy practice. Bruner is licensed and works in Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming in Energy litigation. Bruner has represented individuals at the state, national, and international levels due to her broad range of experience. Bruner was featured as Colorado Law Weekly’s “2020 Top litigator”, and as a 2020’s Basrister’s Best. Bruner’s law experience pertains to Commercial Litigation; Energy, Environmental, and Real Estate Litigation; Energy Regulatory, and Transactional Practice.

Bruner is the Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association for Articles for Energy, Environmental, and Resources for the Oil and Gas Committee. Bruner is a Member of the Women’s Energy Network and serves on the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s Local Regulatory Committee; EHSR Committee; and Legal, Legislative, and Regulatory Committee. Bruner was named a “Top Woman in Energy” and “Who’s Who in Energy” in 2018 and 2019 by the Denver Business Journal.

What is your career, and what do you do for your work?

I am an energy litigation and natural resources lawyer. I represent various oil and gas and other energy companies in their planning or permitting of contentious projects or projects that occur in sensitive areas, whether there in urban or suburban communities or near environmentally sensitive areas. I assist my clients in obtaining a social license to operate within the communities they plan to operate. Communities have different expectations and needs, and I help energy companies navigate those regulatory processes while understanding the communicates needs and expectations. I look at environmental impacts and whether there are mitigations that can help protect public health or reduce inconveniences of nuisances due to the temporary construction of these projects. I have to work with engineers , environmental and regulatory professionals that know the technical side of their projects and place the laws, regulations and community expectations side-by-side. I also assist physicians in the health care field and other individuals in shareholder disputes and litigation.

What is your philosophy in your work?

My philosophy on work is that you need to be available for your clients anytime when thier needs may arise. You need to be a trusted advisor and treat all clients with great respect and consideration. Every client is important and a gift. Cultivating and preserving your relationship with them is as essential as a great work product.

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

I was used to regularly meeting with my clients in person and learning about their projects. I was also used to attending hearings, depositions, and trials in person in whatever state the court I was before was located. This was a valuable part of practicing law because there is so much that can be interpreted by the courtroom’s dynamic. Since the start of COVID-19, we have not been able to have in-person meetings with our clients. Furthermore, we have had to hold most of our court hearings virtually or telephonically and depositions, which have been challenging. While most trials have been postponed or delayed, I did have an in-person trial in October of 2020 in which we had to socially distance and wear masks for extended periods. We had to find new ways to introduce evidence without approaching witnesses.

We have had to become experts in holding virtual meetings efficiently, presenting evidence for depositions via various virtual platforms. We have had to deal with the challenges of talking over ourselves and handling a workday in 8-10 hours; it now takes about 14-16 hours due to connectivity issues, handling many tasks supported by in-office expert personnel on our own.

Also, many companies we represent had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize, reduce debt or sell assets. Other companies had to cut back expenses and thereby not requiring as much work as they had in the past.

How were you able to overcome these struggles?

The way I have overcome these struggles is to become technologically savvy or at least proficient. Holding telephonic depositions or hearings was not wholly unheard of turn the last 19 years of my practice; it usually occurred on occasion and was not preferred or the norm. Now, it has become standard practice. When we hold the court hearings on the phone, it is sometimes difficult not to talk over each other. When attending the hearings virtually, we have to try not to talk over each other it sometimes becomes awkward to get the statements in. However, it also depends on how the judge runs his courtroom. On one occasion, I felt like the motion calendar in one of my South Florida cases ran smoother than ever before.

When the stay-at-home orders went into place, COVID-19 pushed off most of my trials indefinitely. One of my trials took place in October 2020. It was incredibly nerve-wrecking to think that we would expose our team,clients as well as witnesses to COVID-19. Fortunately, we had no cases arise. But the stress was nonetheless real. We had to use masks, and it was difficult to breathe when we were arguing motions or conducting cross-examinations. On one occasion, one of my coc-counsel nearly passed out from the lack of oxygen with the mask. However, the good news is through lots of preparation and practice; we overcame challenges by devoting time to preparing for virtual depositions and socially distanced trials.

How has your marketing strategy been changed or influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic has impacted our legal practices because it is driven by client development and referrals. By not being in social gatherings, it is sometimes difficult to secure new work. However, it has led us to develop in the various areas to contact clients through virtual happy hours, webinars, podcasts, blogs, the use of social media, writing, and other engagement.

Can you provide an example of a specific situation in that COVID impacted a project and how you found a solution to overcome it?

A specific challenge was how we were going to run the trial period; we decided to rearrange the courtroom to be socially distanced. Instead of using a podium, we remained at our desks or memorized the material so we could speak without notes being placed in any particular place. We also used music stands as podiums so that we could have our space. We also made binders for the witnesses and left them on the witness stands with the various documents we might have to cross-examine, impeach them, or conduct our examination. It proved actually to be quite efficient. We also discussed the cases with opposing counsel and established several facts to stipulate to run a more efficient trial and have fewer witnesses. I think in the end, we cut about two days of trial time.

How has COVID specifically impacted your law firm during the pandemic?

My law firm has 26 offices across the country. We often traveled from office to office to get to know our fellow partners and work on cases or attend conferences. This was important because it strengthened the firm culture. We also used to have many gatherings in our offices set up in a more modern open plan. Following the stay-at-home orders, we had to stop traveling, and we were no longer able to use our office for gatherings. This wasn’t easy because clients and organizations counted on us to have these types of events.

However, from a day-to-day in-person operation, we transitioned online seamlessly. Since we could always move around to other offices, our attorneys were equipped to work remotely. However, some of our support staff had to be transitioned. I recall distinctly that we closed on March 12th at around 3:00 PM, and by March 13th at 9:00 AM, I was up and running from home as if nothing happened. Our intra-firm meetings have increased, and I think it has stretgened our firm culture across all offices and practice groups. I anticipate that in the coming years, states will realize that we have the ability to reside in one state and appear in court in another easily.

How have you been able to cope with separation from others for an extended period; do you have any advice for those who might be struggling?

I arrange weekly calls with many of the team members that help me with my cases. We discuss what is coming up with the cases and any necessary work period; this is great because we can see each other face to face when we set them up via Zoom, WebEx, or other similar means. We also prepared unique gifts for the Holidays. The advice that I have for those who might be struggling is to find some way to interact with others. I went back to playing tennis, which, while I’m alone on my side of the court, I at least engage in an activity with somebody on the other side. Likewise, I have held various virtual events for my firm, and I’ve partnered with other non-profit organizations I work with to promote engagement.

What advice do you have for teenagers preparing for their future careers?

I would advise teens two make an effort to learn how to move through transitions smoothly. Life has a lot of changes and shifts, and it is necessary to be flexible. I would also tell teens that they need to make an effort to set up organizational systems in place that account for any changes in circumstances.

What advice would you give to teenagers that are having difficulties discovering what career they would live to pursue? What advice would you give to someone aspiring for your career?

I would tell teenagers who are having difficulty discovering or career to pursue to try to do various volunteer jobs whether they be member tool or social distance opportunities. It is essential to identify what skills you are good at, whether you are good at writing, speaking, planning, or creating things. Not everybody is the same, and it is vital to identify what skills you like and be willing to do repeatedly.

For someone aspiring to be a lawyer, I would advise them to be willing to work under pressure and be organized. You should also be ready to work as a team. I would also recommend that they take classes in communications or public speaking to learn to manage and deliver their thoughts. I would also recommend for them to pursue economics courses to understand the markets. A lot of what I do in energy, specifically in oil and gas, is somewhat contingent on the commodity markets and supply and demand. I would encourage an aspiring attorney to follow trends in innovation. Likewise, I would advise that they need to learn how to write contracts and draft briefs. The two go hand in hand. An attorney who has drafted an agreement is somewhat better to defend the deal because they may understand the terms more closely. I would also obtain some underlining expertise to have a dedicated and specific practice area. It was helpful that I was knowledgeable in public health and chemistry, and when coming to Denver, it led me to energy law. Last, I would tell the individual that law can be a lot of fun if you create a balance.