Being a public defender for five minutes is hard. Theresa Allman has done it for 20 years and still has the same excitement about her job as the new lawyers she mentors year after year in her role as legal intern supervisor at The Defender Association.
Allman was born in Washington, D.C., and attended high school in northern Virginia, where she excelled in gymnastics and track and field. Her experience as a high school athlete instilled in her the drive, passion and commitment she brings to her work. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and the University of Washington, graduating cum laude. She received her J.D. from Seattle University School of Law in 1991.
Allman has spent her entire career at The Defender Association, after working there as an intern during her senior year of college. She continued to intern there during law school, drawing inspiration from the stellar attorneys who worked at The Defender Association during that time, just as her talented colleagues today keep her inspired.
She started as an attorney handling misdemeanors in Seattle Municipal Court in 1991. Since then, she has served in the civil commitment, felony, dependency and sex offender commitment units. She became the legal intern supervisor and assistant misdemeanor supervisor in 1998 and has since shaped the hearts and minds of legions of lawyers in this community. She was named Outstanding Mentor by the KCBA Young Lawyers Division in 2009.
For Allman, being a public defender is a calling, a way to crusade for social justice on an individual level by bringing the highest-quality representation to the most-marginalized population in Seattle - poor people accused of crimes. Public defense is inherently both intensely adversarial and profoundly high-stakes work. Allman does this work day after day with unshakeable ethics, integrity and professionalism, and an absolute dedication to her client's cause.
A former client, who was vindicated after a trial with Allman, said, "I can't say enough about Theresa. She is almost like my family. It was so powerful the way she stood up for me. She's incredible. I am 50 years old, but it made a difference in my life to be represented by her and I mean this from the bottom of my heart."
Another client said, "She's almost like a friend or relative. I think she walks on water. I feel so safe when she represents me in court."
Allman is just as revered as a mentor. The program she runs at The Defender Association is nationally respected and the best law students from across the country compete for a limited number of positions each year. So many current lawyers have described not knowing exactly what they wanted to do until they met Allman. It is because of her that they are public defenders, fearless advocates and consummate professionals.
One intern said, "Theresa is an amazing mentor to the interns she supervises. She inspires all of the law students she works with to be better public defenders by modeling the respect she has for her clients, the energy and creativity she brings to their defense, and the collaboration she undergoes with her co-workers and interns.
"For those of us who become public defenders, Theresa's level of professionalism, skill and ingenuity will give us something to work toward our entire careers."
Allman has raised the bar of practice in our community as both a lawyer and mentor. Earning the trust and respect of the Seattle Municipal Court bench through her winning combination of client-centered advocacy, absolute credibility and courtesy to the entire bench, Allman exemplifies the grace under fire of a 20-year veteran of public defense.
As one Municipal Court judge noted, "Ms. Allman is the ideal lawyer and increases public trust and confidence in public defense for any she represents or who see her practice in court."
Theresa Allman has touched the lives of all who know her, has made us all reach for a higher standard of practice, and has inspired us to love our jobs as she does.