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Dianne Phillips

Federation to honor Dianne R. Phillips, attorney whose pro bono work benefits many families with children with special needs

The Federation for Children with Special Needs announced that Dianne R. Phillips, a partner in the Boston office of the law firm Holland & Knight LLP, will receive its Founder Award at its annual Gala.

The Federation selected Phillips for her career-long commitment to providing pro bono representation that has benefited children with special needs and others.

 In particular was Phillips’s involvement in representing a group of limited English proficient (LEP) parents in a lawsuit that claimed a school system failed to provide adequate translation and interpretation of documents and discussions during meetings, including involving special education services. As a result of this federal court action, the school system has substantially revised its policies and procedures, hired trained interpreters, and trained bilingual staff all to better serve LEP parents.

“Dianne has helped so many children – some with special needs, some unaccompanied migrant minors, and others – that she truly has changed lives for the better,” said Pamela Nourse, Executive Director of the Federation.

“On behalf of the Federation Board and staff, we are proud to honor Dianne,” Nourse said.

Phillips’s legal practice focuses on litigation, regulatory, energy and environmental law. But, when she graduated law school, “I knew I became a lawyer because I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of those less fortunate,” she said.She gained her expertise in helping families with special needs children “largely because my own son was diagnosed with a significant learning disability shortly before his third birthday. So like any good lawyer-mother, I learned all I could about how special education services were delivered and then I used that knowledge to help other families.”

She added, “All of these cases, both the special education cases and the unaccompanied minor cases, were incredibly rewarding, but they were also some of the most challenging and stressful work I have ever done. My everyday practice is largely centered around representing corporate clients, and while these engagements all involve people, many of whom I’ve become friends with, none of those seemed like they concerned life or death in the same way.”

Phillips received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and her law degree, summa cum laude, from the Albany Law School. She worked at the law firm Sherburne, Powers & Needham in Boston before it merged to become the Boston office of Holland & Knight.

At the Gala, the Federation also will honor Teresita (Tere) Ramos, an education, disability and civil rights attorney at Ramos Law LLC in Wellesley. While she previously worked at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Commonwealth’s poverty law center, Ramos was a member of the same legal team on which Phillips represented LEP parents.