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March 20, 2024

Training Spotlight: Utilizing a Racial Equity Lens in IOLTA Programs

Amaris Torres-Rivera and Casey Payton

The National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP) and the ABA Commission on IOLTA came together another year November 1-4, 2023 for an annual Joint IOLTA Conference designed to share ideas and build relationships between programs.

NAIP, established in 1986, is a non-profit, non-partisan membership organization for funders of civil legal aid, which includes nearly sixty IOLTA organizations. NAIP offers educational, professional development, and networking opportunities for its members to improve the civil legal aid system with a collaborative voice. In 2020, NAIP’s Racial Justice Committee was formed and one of its main objectives has been to ensure equity and inclusion for the communities our grants support and the communities where our grants are not reaching.

Recognizing its importance and relevance within our organizations, NAIP hosted for the first time an all-Hispanic panel discussing racial equity after disasters during the 2023 Joint IOLTA Conference. In that same conference, NAIP created the Racial Lens Working Group to address the urgency to review organizational materials and adopt public policy to guarantee diversity and inclusion of its membership, especially to provide support and equal opportunities for U.S. territories in access to justice projects, data collection, activities, and relevant work. As funders for equal justice, NAIP has acknowledged the necessary task of looking inward as an organization and implementing strategies with a racial equity lens that would contribute to changes within the organization and its membership.

On February 8, 2024, NAIP’s Racial Justice Committee, together with the Racial Lens Working Group, put on a first-of-its-kind training for IOLTA fund providers focused on utilizing a racial equity lens in IOLTA programs. This training was presented by Culture Principles, LLC, and had 71 registered attendees from 33 different IOLTA programs and bar foundations.

Some of the important takeaways from this training were:

  • Centering communities who are most affected by the issues at hand, finding tangible ways to document and capture what people are facing, and including more voices.
  • Collaboration means being mindful of who all of the stakeholders are and including them in the process. For example, tangible ways to document and capture what people are facing and to get more voices in the room are: workshops, focus groups, forums, and in-person oral grant applications.
  • Instead of asking potential grantees who are already understaffed and under resourced to spend more time applying to a competitive grant process, figure out alternate procedures on how we can make the process more equitable.

Within IOLTA and bar foundations, we need to keep in mind that it is important to have diversity within our leadership. It is not enough to say that we want your diversity. We need to also allow the conditions that will allow more diverse hires to thrive in leadership roles once they start the job.

Save the Date for the 2024 Joint ABA/NAIP IOLTA Conference, October 23-25 at the Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage, CA.

Amaris Torres-Rivera

Chair of NAIP Racial Lens Working Group and Executive Director of Puerto Rico’s Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia

Casey Payton

ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and U.S. Virgin Islands IOLTA Board Member

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