Barbara McDowell Foundation Expands Its High Impact Project

The Barbara McDowell Foundation is expanding its Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project. The Project, national in scope, is growing in two aspects. First, the Foundation is adding additional law firms to its roster of pro bono partners, and second, the Foundation is recruiting volunteer attorneys, Foundation Fellows, to work on high impact cases with the pro bono law firms and the social justice nonprofit organizations which bring the litigation.


The Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project brings together law firms, social justice organizations, and volunteer attorneys from across the country to undertake by a joint effort significant litigation to protect the civil liberties and enhance the economic, health and social conditions of the poor and vulnerable.

The High Impact Litigation Project focuses on the litigation of systemic, high-impact cases in the following issue areas:

Access to Benefits - Children’s Rights - Disability Rights – Discrimination - Domestic Violence – Environmental Justice – Homelessness – Housing - Native American Rights - Prisoners' Rights - Refugee and Immigration Rights - Voting Rights - Veteran's Rights

The Project meets several needs in the social justice litigation arena:

 - Social justice organizations receive pro bono legal support for high-impact cases

 - Law firms partner on quality, high-impact cases to add to their pro bono efforts

 - Attorneys make a difference in systemic social justice causes by serving as volunteers

This Project has been part of the Foundation’s work since 2010.  Under its auspices the Foundation has coordinated very successfully the initiation of 20 high impact social justice litigation cases. A history of the cases can be found at

The Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project has its genesis in the work championed by Barbara McDowell, for whom the Foundation is named, founding director of the Appellate Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, who died in 2009 of brain cancer. A national leader in public interest advocacy, Barbara did extraordinary work on behalf of the disadvantaged and downtrodden and inspired a generation of public advocacy lawyers.

Project Partners

Nonprofit Social Justice Organizations

The Foundation receives regularly from its network of social justice nonprofit organizations proposals for cases for the High Impact Litigation Project. Cases are vetted by the Foundation to determine which ones to send to partner law firms for consideration.

Once a case is selected, the social justice organization assigns its own attorneys to the litigation efforts and works in conjunction with the attorneys from the pro bono law firm partnering on the case and the Foundation Fellow assigned to the case. The social justice organization performs normal litigation tasks such as identifying witnesses, preparing pleadings, engaging in discovery, preparing the case for trial, and participating in trial.

Pro Bono Law Firms

To achieve the goals of the High Impact Litigation Project the Foundation is expanding nationally its roster of law firms willing to undertake such litigation on a pro bono basis. Law firms that volunteer for this work are matched with cases selected by the Foundation from ones suggested by the Foundation’s network of social justice organizations.

Partnering law firms assign lawyers to High Impact Cases on a pro bono basis and provide funding for certain expenses agreed upon with the nonprofit organization bringing the case.

Foundation Fellows

Working on some of these cases with the pro bono law firm and the social justice organization are volunteer Foundation Fellows, individual attorneys associated with the Foundation, who bring additional expertise to the case. Foundation Fellows can be retired law firm or government attorneys, or individual attorneys looking to expand their pro bono work.

Serving as a volunteer Foundation Fellow allows attorneys to improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged persons and have a significant impact on social justice issues by using their legal expertise and experience.

For more information on serving as a Foundation Fellow, the full position description here. To join the Foundation's efforts as a Foundation Fellow please submit the volunteer profile here.

The Foundation’s Role

The Foundation believes a complete team effort works best in effectively litigating high-impact cases. This teaming effort has resulted in wonderful results as reported in the history of cases litigated through the Project which can be found can be found at

In addition to bringing together the case partners, the Foundation monitors the progress of each High Impact Litigation Project case through regular contact with the litigation team. Further, the Foundation promotes on its website, social media, and email marketing channels the efforts and results of the High Impact Litigation Project cases, reporting on them from initiation to completion.    

Interest in Participating in the High Impact Litigation Project

The Barbara McDowell Foundation hopes by expanding its efforts it can further its impact and ability to achieve social justice. If there is interest in partnering in the Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project, please email Jerry Hartman, Foundation President, at