The Spirits Move Her

But life hasn’t always been smooth pouring for liquor-law expert Kelly Allen

Published in 2009 Michigan Super Lawyers — September 2009

Kelly Allen has her brothers to thank for finding her niche.

When she entered law school, Allen had no clue what kind of attorney she wanted to be. But the indecision left her with a career glass delightfully half full when two of her eight brothers—four would end up in the restaurant industry—opened their first establishment in 1984, just as their sister was closing her law books.

“I hadn’t graduated by the time they finished the transactional part,” Allen says, “but right out of the box, they got liquor-control violations.” They had unknowingly sold liquor to a minor with a fake ID. Reopening her books, Allen read the liquor-control code cover to cover, then negotiated a settlement that let them keep their liquor license.

This was all despite of an onslaught of medical challenges that began right out of law school. But Allen is not one to let anything get in her way.

Though she maintained a general litigation practice at Howard & Howard, she gradually increased her expertise in liquor law, and word spread. In 1995, she moved to Adkison, Need & Allen in Bloomfield Hills and now has enough liquor-license clients—both mom-and-pop and chain establishments—that she’s dropped everything else.

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission controls the wholesaling of distilled spirits, and everything—and everyone—involved in liquor licensing is investigated by the state, local law enforcement and the municipality. Allen, 50, helps her clients navigate this legal scrutiny.

For Allen personally, it hasn’t all been smooth pouring. Her first year as a lawyer, she was diagnosed with lupus, and was in and out of the hospital for years. “That puts a big huge cramp in your style,” she says. Fortunately—and serendipitously—her husband, John Tower, is a rheumatologist. With his help, the disease was brought under control.

Then, four years ago, Allen was diagnosed with endometrial and ovarian cancer. Early detection, surgery and treatment saved her, and the cancer is now in remission. In 1999, after her bout with lupus, she served as the youngest president of the Oakland County Bar Association. And less than two weeks after her cancer surgery, she was back at city hall, fighting for a liquor license for a client in Rochester Hills. “They wheeled me into this council meeting, I did my hearing and I won.”

Allen is as relentless in the courtroom as she is facing her personal challenges. “If a bar, a restaurant, a bowling alley, something that depends on this liquor license, it’s your bread and butter, it’s your livelihood,” she says. “The lawyer’s favorite thing to do is go to the business, deliver that license, then—high-five.”

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