August 05, 2015 Dialogue

IOLTA: From the Chair...

By Hon. James S. Hill, Commission on Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts

The past months have brought a whirlwind of activity and the promise of even better things to come. Most recently, in late July, the IOLTA community headed en masse to Chicago for the annual Summer IOLTA Workshops, co-produced by the ABA Commission on IOLTA and the National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP). Combining innovative programming with networking opportunities, the workshops were a great success as always, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the many individuals involved in their planning and implementation.

The exciting prospect of rising interest rates on the horizon inspired lively discussion among workshop attendees regarding topics such as how to ensure that financial institutions will provide the proper amount of interest that is due and the best ways for IOLTA programs to use any increased income that might result. Additionally, attendees explored how IOLTA programs can assist in legal aid fundraising efforts and received updates on the NAIP mini-grants project to expand support for civil legal aid through increased communication and collaboration with private philanthropic foundations. Several “hot topics” were discussed, including the recent bank settlements and unidentified/unclaimed property in IOLTA accounts. Attendees also were introduced to the concept of business process analysis and learned how this method, traditionally used in the manufacturing field, can be used by legal aid and IOLTA programs to streamline their operations and improve their services.

I found it particularly noteworthy that, when asked during the closing plenary (titled “Preparing for Abundance”) to make a list of three future uses for increased IOLTA income, several groups listed setting aside funds for business process analysis— a tool that many attendees admitted to never having encountered before. Therein lies the proof, if any was ever needed, of the immediate impact and educational value of the thoughtful programming that has always been the hallmark of the IOLTA Workshops. Our community is fortunate indeed to have such a worthwhile resource.

In April, the Commission met in Portland, Maine to conduct its regular business as well as to discuss the latest IOLTA and access to justice developments around the country. Our guests for lunch included the Hon. Howard Dana (Member of the Board of Directors of the Maine Bar Foundation), David Levesque (President of the Maine Bar Association), David Pierson (Immediate Past President of the Maine Bar Foundation), and Diana Scully (Executive Director of the Maine Bar Foundation).

The Maine guests shared a wealth of information with us, including the latest developments regarding: proposed legislation on the use of orphaned IOLTA funds for civil legal services; a new program to consolidate fundraising for legal aid services within the state; efforts, funded by a NAIP mini-grant, to foster connections between the legal aid and philanthropic communities; and the bar foundation’s plans for distributing bank settlement funds. In addition, our guests discussed a concern that is likely affecting IOLTA programs nationally—how to determine when interest rates might increase, and whether and how to spend reserve funding based on such projections. Commission members with banking expertise shared their views regarding when the Federal Reserve might act to raise the federal funds target rate and when IOLTA programs might expect to see the effects of any such rate increase.

Even as we anticipate a more robust financial future, I am reminded that all good things must come to an end.  I would like to take this opportunity to bid a fond farewell and heartfelt thank-you to three Commission members whose three-year terms are ending.

As co-chair of the Joint NAIP/Commission on IOLTA Meetings Committee, Eileen Letts has played an integral role in the successful production of the IOLTA Workshops. And Cynthia Mares’ leadership as co-chair of the Joint Communications Committee has advanced the committee’s educational and awareness-raising efforts. Finally, the Joint Technical Assistance Committee—and, through it, the IOLTA community as a whole—has benefitted immeasurably over the past three years from the experience and sound judgment of its co-chair, Jon Ross.

These individuals have served on the Commission with distinction and dedication. I know I speak for all of the members and staff when I say they will be sorely missed. On a personal note, I am grateful for their friendship and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.