From the Chair...

Commission on Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts

In April, the Commission held its spring meeting in Albuquerque New Mexico. We were fortunate to be joined by members of the Center for Civic Values, the entity that administers Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA). Present were Michelle Giger, President and CEO; Anthony Gonzales, Treasurer and CFO; and Lynda Latta, Board Chair. We were also joined by Andrew J. Cloutier, President of the New Mexico State Bar, along with Chief Justice Petra Maes and the Hon. Sarah Singleton, Co–Chairs to the New Mexico Access to Justice Commission.

Our guests provided an opportunity to learn about IOLTA in New Mexico, as well as the work of the Access to Justice Commission, Judiciary and Bar. The members of the Commission and I were not surprised to hear that IOLTA income has remained at record lows. Though the access to justice community has continued to explore new strategies to supplement funding for legal services, the effort has been out–paced by the growing need for legal assistance.

Unfortunately, the report from New Mexico is one that resonates with many IOLTA programs – and has been a familiar theme over the past several years. In response, the IOLTA workshops are convening a forum to address the funding crisis, with a discussion of how IOLTA programs might engage more actively with private foundations to encourage them to fund legal aid. I was happy to learn that the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation are now advocating among their peers for this very outcome.

These Foundations have joined forces to publish a brochure urging the philanthropic community to partner with civil legal aid programs. They point to the powerful impact this collaboration can have on issues such as: affordable housing; domestic violence; education reform; and access to health. The publication emphasizes the importance of funding legal aid by stating that even minor legal problems can have a larger effect by tearing families apart and driving people further into poverty.

In addition to educating philanthropies on how they can make a difference through funding, the publication identifies IOLTA as a bridge between legal services and the philanthropic community. It describes IOLTA programs as 'experienced legal aid grant makers that can show philanthropies how their funding can impact lives of individuals and their communities.'

Mary McClymont, President of the Public Welfare Foundation, brought this message to the forefront through her article published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She writes that we are a country which prides itself on equal access to justice and, as such, addressing the growing need for legal assistance to the most needy should be a priority to grant makers. She continues to state that supporting civil legal aid "can give low–income people and communities an equal shot at the justice they deserve to meet their basic needs, promote dignity and stability in their lives, and create pathways out of poverty."

I am delighted that Mary McClymont will be speaking at the Summer IOLTA Workshops in San Francisco on August, Thursday August 8th. She and other panelists will discuss their efforts to educate private foundations on how funding legal aid programs can expand their strategic goals. They will also explore ways in which IOLTA programs can communicate and partner with private foundations. In addition to this plenary session, the workshops will address many other timely topics and provide time for discussion and sharing of ideas. I am looking forward to the Summer Workshops and hope to see you there.