Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Legal Aid Mourns the Passing of Barbara Babcock, First Director of the D.C. Public Defender Service

Legal Aid was saddened to learn of the death of Barbara Babcock on April 18. Born in the District of Columbia, Professor Babcock was a tireless trailblazer who returned to the city of her birth after graduating from Yale Law School. She soon became the first director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Viewing her success from across the country, Stanford Law School appointed her as the first woman on its regular faculty. While at Stanford, she encouraged more than one generation of lawyers to devote themselves to careers furthering the public interest.

During her lengthy teaching career, she inspired students with a unique combination of real-world experience, belief in rapid, positive change, and genuine affection for those entrusted to her tutelage. Beloved by her students, Professor Babcock was a wonderful mentor and champion of women in the legal profession and defender of the disenfranchised community members caught in our legal systems. Her legacy is felt in the impact of her thousands of students and mentees throughout the legal profession who fight every day for her values. Moreover, as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division under President Carter, she exercised significant influence to increase the number people of color and women (including now Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) serving on the federal judiciary.

On a personal level, Professor Babcock was my mentor and favorite professor three decades ago. My classmates and I adored her for her ability to simultaneously inform and entertain as well as the way she cared so deeply and personally about each of her students. She was the best imaginable personal and professional guide to the start of my career as a lawyer. Her voice in the back of my head is undoubtedly one of the reasons I have ended up at Legal Aid, a place of diversity and inclusion, where law degrees are used to make justice real for the folks who need that help the most.

Our thoughts are with Professor Babcock’s family, friends, and students during their time of mourning.

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