Barbara McDowell's Work at the Legal Aid Society

On April 15, 2010, Beth Harrison, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Washington, D.C., wrote Jerry Hartman a note describing Barbara’s work at the Legal Aid Society. That note captures the essence of the reasons why the Foundation was started and reads as follows:

Dear Jerry, 

 These are the notes that Barbara gave me back in 2005 on a brief that we were working on together for a case in the 5th Circuit concerning the voucher program and utility allowances. Barbara had started at Legal Aid only recently and knew very little (at that time) about these programs. The utility allowance rules are sufficiently esoteric that it takes many legal services attorneys awhile to really understand them. One of Barbara’s contributions to the case was helping the lead attorneys explain the rules in a way that the panel (also likely to be unfamiliar with these details) could understand.

I was very impressed by Barbara’s detailed and insightful comments on the brief. Most of my reviewers (on this and other appellate briefs) would give me redline comments. Barbara was terrific at taking a step back to capture the big picture. My experience with her on this brief was similar to my experiences working with her later at Legal Aid. She was brilliant, an excellent writing and strategist, but also completely unassuming, respectful and deferential – a rare combination indeed.

She also was generous with her time, as I think these detailed comments illustrate. I remember another time early in my tenure at Legal Aid when I was looking for case law to support a particular proposition. The argument in court was the next day and I went to Barbara for ideas. She couldn’t come up with anything offhand, but promised to think about it. A few hours later she brought me a case that she had dug up. Of all things she had on her own to do list, she had taken the time to find it for me.

I am confident there are many attorneys at Legal Aid, but also everywhere Barbara worked, whose practice will be influenced by their work with Barbara for years to come. She taught all of us so much about being strong advocates in the appellate arena. She also was a model for being a smart and successful woman and a mentor to younger attorneys. I was blessed to know her and work with her.

Yours truly,