By Alessandro Terenzoni
Family law. Public benefits. Language access. A DC legal services attorney could build an entire career out of just one of those subject areas. Allison Miles-Lee is a champion of all three—and our 2020 Legal Services Award Recipient.
As a managing attorney at Bread for the City, Allison’s broad expertise and inimitable talent have allowed her to live her organization’s mission: to help Washington, DC residents living with low income to develop their power to determine the future of their own communities. Allison somehow manages to represent clients in the Domestic Relations and Parentage and Support Branches of D.C. Superior Court AND supervise Bread for the City’s participation in the Child Support Project at Super Court AND handle and supervise public benefits matters AND lead the charge on language access in the District by holding accountable agencies that violate the D.C. Language Access Act. Another attorney might be considered for this award for just doing one of these things, but Allison does them all.
Allison’s colleagues use all the superlatives one would expect: “compassionate,” “hard-working,” “tireless,” “intelligent,” “the best of our profession.” They praise not only her ability to practice law and advocate for her clients but also the care with which she carries her colleagues and the ability she has in teaching others to practice law in the public interest. Her work is intersectional in the way the practice of law often isn’t. Clients in DC (and around the country) are often told to go here for this, go there for that. Allison manages to empower her clients by being able to engage the variety of needs that they bring with them.
“Rare” was another word used by a colleague to describe Allison. The care and expertise that Allison brings to her work and her clients are of a caliber that warrants this descriptor. Allison began her career in DC legal services doing family law. Indeed, even before joining Bread for the City as a bilingual family law attorney in 2008, she actually interned in the family unit at the Legal Aid Society. Allison added a deep knowledge in public benefits, over time becoming a local expert on immigrant eligibility for federal public benefits (no easy feat) in the midst of working with all sorts of other public benefits issues.
Even with all this, most of Allison’s colleagues point to her work in language access to be her most notable. Her work led to a collaborative effort in which Bread joined the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Hogan Lovells in a 2015 lawsuit against DHS for its failure to provide language services to non-English speaking consumers who lost safety net benefits as a result. One of her co-counsel credits Allison with the lawsuit’s very existence; but for her work to show that the issues were a pattern and widespread, they might have been waved away as isolated incidents. Allison’s work in language access has gone beyond just her clients. Allison has been improving the lives of DC residents for over a decade. She does the life-saving work of connecting people to healthcare, resources, and justice, while also engaging in law reform efforts that reverberate throughout the District. This award was created to celebrate the unsung heroes of our community. Hopefully receiving our Legal Services Award will make Allison’s heroic work unsung no longer.
Learn more about Allison and the other awards recipients at our 2020 Awards Ceremony.
Alessandro Terenzoni is a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers Board of Directors.