Described as a humble, caring, “inspirational role model,” attorney Alan Yee has long championed the rights of the elderly and those living on very little income in Oakland’s Chinatown.

“To say in the least, Alan’s commitment to protecting the rights, health, and safety of the Chinatown community has been, and continues to be, an inspiration as well as a blessing to Chinatown’s low-income community members,” said Julia Liou of the Oakland Chinatown Coalition.

For contributing so much in pro bono legal services, Yee, 52, will receive the 2004 State Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award on Friday, October 8, during the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in Monterey. Nominees from nine categories — a mix of individual attorneys, legal teams and law firms — will be presented this year’s award for providing extensive pro bono services to the poor.

The awardees “represent the noblest of our profession and deserve our gratitude, admiration and respect,” said State Bar President Anthony P. Capozzi. And such assistance, Capozzi said, is particularly noteworthy in today’s challenging economic times.

When 50 residents — many of them elderly Asian immigrants with little income — recently faced eviction and the possibility that they had been overcharged a total of $2 million in rent, Yee stepped in as lead counsel and key organizer and strategist in the complex, high-impact affordable housing case.

When plans for a large-scale commercial and residential development nearby threatened to endanger Chinatown’s pedestrians and worsen the community’s traffic congestion and air quality, Yee, a partner at the five-attorney firm of Siegel & Yee, spent hundreds of hours pursuing an environmental justice lawsuit against the City of Alameda. Assisting the Oakland Chinatown Coalition (Asian Health Services and the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce) with the lawsuit, Yee also served as a “community bridge” to help local residents understand the situation. As part of a settlement, Chinatown now stands to receive nearly $1 million in funding to help improve its traffic situation and make the community safer for pedestrians.

But Yee, who volunteers legal assistance through various organizations, never seeks personal attention for such efforts, his supporters say. “While some advocates enjoy basking in the limelight of press conferences and media coverage, Alan prefers to work quietly and let the results of his effort speak for him,” said Oakland City Council member Danny Wan.

Supporters say Yee’s humble, passionate and pragmatic advocacy sets him apart and engenders respect. Said Wan: “Alan enjoys the trust of both elected officials and the community-at-large, two groups that often do not see eye-to-eye.”