1374671. This 7-digit number will forever be imprinted in the mind of extraordinary lawyer, Brittany K. Barnett (formerly Byrd). It was assigned to her mother by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice when began serving time in prison in 2006. But the significance of this 7-digit number is much greater than an inmate number given her mother. This number sparked a heightened since of empathy and compassion in Brittany she never knew she had.
Brittany’s reaction to the difficult experience of having a parent in prison is nothing short of inspirational. Combining her passion to help others with her personal hardship of having a mother in prison, Brittany founded Girls Embracing Mothers, Inc. (GEM) - a Dallas-based nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering girls with mothers in prison to break the cycle of incarceration and lead successful lives with vision and purpose. GEM partners with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to take groups of girls to visit their mothers in prison for enhanced visitation sessions. During the visits, GEM facilitates discussions between the mothers and daughters that revolve around critical life issues while building the mother-daughter bond. Brittany’s vision for GEM is for girls with mothers in prison to fulfill the meaning of their own creation by using their stumbling blocks as stepping stones for a brighter tomorrow.
While working as a corporate attorney, Brittany showed a steadfast commitment to pro bono representation of clients in federal prison. She was personally responsible for obtaining freedom through the federal courts for several clients who had served decades in federal prison as nonviolent drug offenders. Brittany’s dedication to this life changing work paid off tremendously – resulting in executive clemency from President Barack Obama for seven of her clients, Donel Clark, Sharanda Jones, Wayland Wilson, Darryl Reed, Corey Jacobs, Trenton Copeland, and Burnett Shackleford. Sharanda, Corey, and Trenton were each serving life without parole sentences as nonviolent drug offenders. Clemency from President Obama literally saved their lives. Brittany shares a special bond with each of her clients. They are forever bound by redemption and the gracious mercy of the first African American President of the United States of America.
Recently, Brittany received the prestigous Young Leader Award from the Dallas Women’s Foundation to recognize her breakthrough leadership in creating paths of opportunity for other women to follow. In addition, Brittany has been named one America’s most Outstanding Young Lawyers by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Division; Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas by the Texas Young Lawyers Association; and Outstanding Young Lawyer of Dallas by the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers – all for her professionalism, commitment to serving the community and dedication to helping others through her pro bono work.
Last year, Brittany stepped out on faith and resigned from what some would call a posh corporate law job to follow her passion for criminal justice reform. As the daughter of a formerly incarcerated mother, Brittany knows first-hand that the impact of mass incarceration is far reaching and devastates families and entire communities across the country.
Brittany is a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. She recently worked with the team at #cut50 to lead its #clemencyNOW campaign and continues to passionately represent and advocate for nonviolent drug offenders who are serving draconian sentences in federal prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws. Before following her passion for criminal justice reform, she was Associate General Counsel at ORIX USA Corporation focusing on mergers and acquisitions and general corporate matters. Prior to her legal career, she worked for an accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, and earned her license as a Certified Public Accountant. Brittany also holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Accounting.