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Xavier Magazine | August 20, 2017

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Profile: Barbara Howard

By Julie Irwin Zimmerman

Barbara Howard
Bachelor of Arts in political science, 1976
Attorney; President of the Ohio State Bar Association
Cincinnati

Family Work | Howard is the principal of her own law firm, which she founded in 1996. She received her JD from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1979 and has specialized in family law her entire career, gaining certification as a family law specialist in 1999, the first year it was offered. Her practice focuses mostly on divorce, as well as custody, paternity and juvenile law. As part of her work with the state bar association’s family law committee, she’s helped re-write Ohio’s spousal support statute.

New Era | Collaborative law is changing the way many divorces are handled. Couples who choose collaborative law agree not to go to court but instead work out agreements on issues of property, parenting and support. Psychologists, social workers and financial professionals meet with the couples to resolve problems and map out options with the hope of avoiding the cost and animosity that often accompany litigation. “Cincinnati has one of the oldest groups of collaborative law practices in the country,” Howard says. “Although it isn’t for everyone, I’m thankfully spending less time in court because we’re doing more in collaboration.”

Recession’s Impact | The legal profession has also been hit hard by the economic downturn. People are even postponing divorces because of the associated fees. “There’s significant thought, and I think there’s truth to it, that the practice of law has changed because of this downturn,” Howard says. The Ohio State Bar Association, of which Howard is now president, is holding town-hall meetings to assess the changes and provide help for members. Even so, attorneys are still helping others through the state bar association’s Save the Dream Project. More than 1,100 attorneys are providing legal assistance to people facing foreclosure.

Judicial Elections | The state bar association and the chief justice’s office are also working on the issue of how judges are chosen in Ohio. Ohio elects its judges, and for years there have been concerns that campaign contributions might influence judges once they reach the bench. The state bar association favors the appointment of judges, and efforts toward change are now focused on the state Supreme Court. “We don’t have any pre-ordained conclusions, but we’re pretty convinced that the perception that campaign contributions influence decisions is widespread, and it needs to be addressed,” Howard says.

Future Leaders | Howard is also concerned about increasing diversity and inclusion among Ohio attorneys. “The numbers [of lawyers from minority and underprivileged backgrounds] in the past decade haven’t grown at all,” she says. In response, the association and Ohio law schools launched the Law and Leadership Project in six Ohio cities in which 25-40 underserved 9th-graders were chosen to attend a five-week program that exposed them to legal careers. “It’s going to create what we hope is a feeder system of kids who have a lot of talent but have never been told they can do this, that law school is an option for them,” Howard says.

Avoiding Litigation | If her legal work wasn’t enough, Howard’s also a delegate to the American Bar Association, a member of Xavier’s board of trustees, the Cincinnati Union Bethel board of trustees, the Athenaeum of Ohio board of trustees, and the University of Cincinnati College of Law board of visitors.

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