Shining through-- Lawyer's positive outlook helps make the difference

By Debra Talcott

Legal News

Sometimes life doesn't turn out exactly as we'd imagined it would; but if we're lucky enough to have a sense a humor, we often realize we've ended up just where we belong.

When attorney Kelly Allen of Adkison, Need, & Allen in Bloomfield Hills was a high school student in Birmingham, she did an internship with prominent Detroit-area attorney Henry Baskin that helped to clarify her goals.

"At that time, Henry represented many TV personalities and TV management. I was fascinated because what Henry did and does is not your everyday type of law practice," says Allen. "Everything Henry did was glamorous, and I aspired to be just like him, as a famous entertainment lawyer."

Instead, Allen has found herself a little less famous and a little less glamorous, calling herself a "somewhat-known liquor attorney" at the business and real estate law firm she joined in 1996. After 15 years of practice in a variety of areas including divorce and litigation, Allen became the firm's "liquor lawyer."

"I came to specialize in liquor law because of my huge family," says Allen.

The oldest of 10 children, Allen was finishing law school just as her brothers were purchasing their first bar and restaurant, a business they named the "Landshark" in East Lansing.

"I did not handle the transaction for my brothers, but right out of the blocks, they received violations from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) for sales to minors and overcrowding. They were inexperienced then--as was I. But they asked for my help, and I taught myself how to handle the MLCC hearings," says Allen. "Thereafter, my brothers bought and sold many establishments, so I learned how to handle the transaction and how to handle the licensing with the municipalities and the MLCC."

Adkison, Need, & Allen oversees every aspect of liquor licensing, including purchase or sale of the business, creation of the corporation, zoning issues, and the application process with the municipality and the MLCC.

"We also handle violations and appeals for licenses. This happens when a licensee receives a violation from the MLCC or is denied licensure for some reason," says Allen.

Dealing with issues related to products and permits and assisting municipal partners in drafting ordinances governing liquor licenses are additional services the firm provides.

With the passage of the Early Sunday Sales legislation that went into effect in December, Allen has seen a huge burden placed on the already busy staff of the MLCC.

"Never, in my lifetime, has the agency been faced with the numbers of applications they have had, all at the same time. The MLCC is doing a great job, but--for obvious reasons--other routine matters are understandably delayed."

The Early Sunday Sales law allows licensees to sell alcohol from 7 a.m. to noon, if their municipality has not opted out. Previously, Sunday liquor sales in Michigan were not permitted before noon.

"Certainly, the businesses need every tool they can to survive and prosper in this economy," says Allen. "Many, many of our clients have obtained these permits."

Allen, a graduate of Michigan State University and Wayne State University Law School, is a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association. She is married to Dr. John Tower, a rheumatologist in Rochester Hills. The couple is proud of their two sons, 17-year-old Nicholas and 14-year-old Christopher. Nicholas is a senior at Notre Dame Preparatory School, and Christopher is in the eighth grade at Marist Academy. NDPMA is known for its challenging curriculum and strong "Fighting Irish" teams.

Allen serves as a Trustee of the Board of Directors at Notre Dame Prep and faces the same challenges that busy working mothers everywhere face in juggling multiple roles. But Allen has also dealt with major health issues that have tested her positive attitude and sense of humor.

"I am a cancer survivor and I have Lupus," says Allen, matter-of-factly. "I have had one thing or another since I was a child, but when I'd just started to practice law, I was diagnosed with Lupus and have had many health challenges since. My friends fondly refer to me as a 'science project,'" she adds, letting her sense of humor shine through.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage the skin, joints, and internal organs. It is a disease with flares and remissions and can be graded from mild to life threatening.

"I have gone for long periods of time without any issues and then, for no reason, I hit a bad spell," explains Allen. "This past year was, I can honestly say, the worst flare I have ever had, with symptoms I'd never experienced before, including major skin problems. The biggest bummer was losing a lot of my hair. Fortunately, I had more hair than any person deserved--and had complained about it most of my life--so losing as much as I did does not look that terrible on me. And after all, it is just hair," she says, keeping her perspective.

Since Lupus is an unpredictable disease, Allen never knows when she gets up in the morning if it will be a good day or a bad one, but she rarely gives in to the disease completely. Friends and co-workers marvel that she appears to have even more energy than most healthy people.

"Picture yourself exhausted, achy all over, and feverish--for long periods of time," she explains. "I entitle myself to a couple of 'pity parties' each year. Those are fun parties, and I invite my friends to join."

Allen says dealing with Lupus is "not a big deal" as long as she remembers that she will get through most days and only once in a while "crash."

"I have never felt that my life was threatened--especially since my husband is one of the best rheumatologists around. When I was diagnosed with ovarian and endometrial cancer in 2005, though, that was a completely different feeling. I was, for the first time, really scared," she admits.

Allen allowed that fear to last for only a short period.

"I had so many people praying for me and so much more life to live that I knew God would not allow anything to happen to me. Our kids were young--12 and 9--and I was positive I had to be there for them. Besides, all I could think of was, 'I did not finish their baby books!'"

The prayers worked, and Allen successfully underwent surgery and radiation therapy for stage 1 ovarian cancer and stage 3 endometrial cancer.

"Just after my surgery and before I started radiation, I handled a hearing at the Rochester Hills City Council for a client. Laura, my legal assistant and biggest supporter, took me there and everywhere I needed to go. I will never forget that hearing--I reminded myself of the movie 'Weekend at Bernie's,' and I was Bernie," she quips, calling to mind the 1989 comedy in which a couple of insurance workers prop up their deceased boss to get through a party he was supposed to host.

"And you would not believe the support I got from fellow lawyers," says Allen. "The cards, the calls, the baskets, the offers to help in any way, the food, the food, the food. Lawyers I barely knew dropped by the hospital or my home. I think when a lawyer gets sick, we all realize how short life can be. We realize there is so much more to life than work."

And Allen knows a thing or two about lawyers. Of her nine siblings, two brothers are also attorneys. Joe Allen worked for the U.S. Attorney's Office for more than 20 years and recently left to work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Peter Allen is general counsel for a large shipping firm in Manhattan.

Her brothers Jim, Michael, Tom, and Dan are in the restaurant business in Michigan and Chicago. Allen's other two brothers followed in the footsteps of their father, Jack Allen, who was in the broadcasting business. David Allen works for Comcast in New York, and Tim Allen represents cable networks nationally for a company in Chicago. The brothers have maintained strong ties to places they lived before their father's work brought them to Detroit.

Allen's sister Elaine is the youngest of the brood and serves as the other "bookend" for all those brothers. She lives in Connecticut, where she runs the Westport youth center.

Allen has fond memories of growing up in the family's understandably busy household.

"My parents, Jack and Chandra Allen, are simply the most amazing parents in the world. They were both only children, but they went on to have 10 children, and they now have 26 grandchildren. Growing up in Birmingham was wonderful, and our house was, indeed, the neighborhood hangout. We always had something going on there, mostly boys playing football or riding bikes," she reminisces.

As the older sister of eight brothers and all their friends, Allen is well-equipped to be the only woman in her current household of men.

"When I am not working--though I am not sure when that is, exactly--I love to just be with my family," says Allen. "We love to travel. My oldest likes to shop with me. My husband and I go to all the boys' games. I love to walk our golden retriever 'Gracie Allen,' roller blade, and read."

Published: Fri, Jan 14, 2011