Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project


The Foundation’s Pro Bono High Impact Litigation Project, national in scope, brings together law firms and social justice organizations and 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 Project fulfills several needs for litigating social justice cases:

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
Civil Rights and Due Process
Disability Rights
Domestic Violence
Due Process
Environmental Justice
Native American Rights
Prisoners' Rights
Refugee and Immigration Rights
Voting Rights
Veterans' Rights

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. Selection of a case for the Project does not include financial grants which the Foundation makes to social justice organizations as part of its grant making efforts. 

Project Partners

Nonprofit Social Justice Organizations 

The Foundation invites proposals from social justice organizations for its 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. 

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.

Case proposals can be submitted for consideration to the Foundation using the online form, linked below. 

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.

Further Information

Monitoring and Promotion of High Impact Cases

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.


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. Summaries and updates of the cases litigated through the High Impact Litigation Project appear on the Foundation’s website here.

For Further Information

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 or your law firm partnering on a high impact case, please email Jerry Hartman, Foundation President, at  

Submitting a Case Proposal




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