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Barbara Babcock, a Force for Women in the Law, Dies at 81

Professor Babcock, a trailblazer for women in the legal profession and the first female tenured faculty member at Stanford Law School, died on April 18 at her home in Stanford, Calif. She was 81. Stanford University announced her death and said the cause was breast cancer.

In addition to advocating for women, Professor Babcock fought for poor defendants to have legal representation, spurred on by Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 landmark Supreme Court decision that required states to provide lawyers to criminal defendants who could not afford their own.

At the time, Professor Babcock, who had clerked for a federal judge and had originally wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, was working for Edward Bennett Williams, one of the nation’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers.

But with the Gideon decision forcing every jurisdiction in the country to figure out how to provide lawyers to indigent defendants, she left Mr. Williams’s firm and joined a pilot project at the Legal Aid Agency for the District of Columbia. That evolved into Washington’s Public Defender Service, of which she became the first director.

Even as she was running the public defender office, she continued to argue cases in court.

“If you want to lead, you have to be in the trenches,” Professor Babcock said in a 2007 oral history for the American Bar Association’s Women Trailblazers in the Law Project. “You can’t tell people to do things if you aren’t willing to do them yourself.”

Read entire article at New York Times