Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project


The Foundation’s Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project, national in scope, brings together law firms, social justice organizations and volunteer attorneys 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
Domestic Violence
Environmental Justice
Native American Rights
Prisoners' Rights
Refugee and Immigration Rights
Voting Rights
Veterans' Rights

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

Case Selection 

The Foundation regularly receives 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 forward to partner law firms for consideration. 

The Foundation invites proposals for the High Impact Litigation Project for cases which will significantly improve the well-being, social conditions, and/or civil liberties of a large number of disadvantaged persons and groups throughout the United States. The Foundation seeks systemic cases that will have an impact on a specific area of the law or a legal issue through the establishment of a legal precedent. The Foundation does not support cases where the relief sought is for an individual except if it would involve an important legal precedent addressing a systemic issue. Also, the Foundation does not support criminal cases where an individual is charged with a crime. 

The High Impact Litigation Project is not directly tied to the Foundation’s grant making efforts and selection of a case for the Project does not include grant funds.

Project Partners

Nonprofit Social Justice Organizations 

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.

If you would like to schedule a time to speak with the Barbara McDowell Foundation about your nonprofit organization proposing a social justice litigation case for the High Impact Litigation Project, email Jerry Hartman, Foundation President, at


Pro Bono Law Firms

To achieve the goals of the High Impact Litigation Project, the Foundation has created a roster of national law firms willing to undertake such litigation on a pro bono basis. Law firms that volunteer for this work are offered cases selected by the Foundation from ones suggested by the network of hundreds of social justice organizations that the Foundation maintains. 

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.

If you would like to schedule a time to speak with the Barbara McDowell Foundation about your law firm partnering on a High Impact Litigation Project case, email Jerry Hartman, Foundation President, at

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 to the case additional expertise in complex litigation. 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. By volunteering their services Foundation Fellows expand the impact of the High Impact Litigation Project at no additional cost to the case. 

For more information on serving as a Foundation Fellow review the full position description

To join the Foundation's efforts as a Foundation Fellow please submit the volunteer profile  

The Foundation's Role - A Team Effort

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 by scrolling below. 

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 Project 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.   


The concept of the High Impact Litigation Project derives from the work championed by the late Barbara McDowell, a national leader in public interest advocacy, who died of brain cancer in January 2009, and served as the founding director of the Appellate Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.  She endowed the Legal Aid Society with a rich and compelling record of legal human rights achievement.  Barbara did extraordinary work on behalf of the disadvantaged and downtrodden and inspired a generation of public advocacy lawyers.

For Further Information

Whether you are a law firm, social justice organization, or a potential Foundation Fellow, please contact us at for more information on the Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project. 


This Project has been part of the Foundation’s work since 2010.  Under its auspices the Foundation has coordinated very successfully the initiation of high impact social justice litigation. A description of the cases litigated through the High Impact Litigation Project appears on the High Impact Project Case Updates page.

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