A brief, almost chance encounter with the Uptown People’s Law Center in 1979 altered the course of Alan Mills’ life. Passing by the Law Center on the way to the “El” station, the first-year law student immediately realized the vast array of legal needs facing the area’s poor and disenfranchised. During his second year at Northwestern University School of Law, Alan volunteered at the Law Center. He assisted former coal miners, who had recently settled in Uptown at the time, to secure their disability benefits. The following summer, Alan underwent an immersion in housing advocacy, first assisting in a major housing case against the City of Chicago and later participating in a jury trial in which he helped defend a family of 12 being evicted from Cabrini Green. Upon graduating from Northwestern cum laude, he knew exactly where his career was leading.
Over the next 30 plus years, a purposeful, dedicated career would help transform the life of a neighborhood. Initially Alan continued in his dedication to Chicago’s marginalized residents as an attorney in private practice, devoting nearly a third of his billable hours to public interest cases, for which he received no monetary compensation. Given Alan’s extraordinary commitment to pro bono work, it was only a matter of time before he would dedicate his legal career entirely to public interest work. He did that in 1992 when he became Director of the Law Center. Alan maintains the primary responsibility for monitoring the work of volunteer lawyers, supervising the office staff and handling numerous pending cases. He involves himself personally in the representation of Uptown’s poor in areas of family law, criminal defense, consumer rights, social security and welfare defense matters. Since receiving the Morsch Award in 2005, Alan has spearheaded the UPLC’s efforts to develop a clearinghouse for prisoner correspondence; to recruit, train and support pro bono attorneys; and to place meritorious civil rights cases with pro bono attorneys. As one colleague noted, “His passion and his impact remain unflagging and unchanged.”