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October 01, 2016 Dialogue

IOLTA: From the Chair

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

Recently, the Commission on IOLTA gathered at the North Carolina State Bar’s office building in Raleigh to conduct its fall business meeting and discuss IOLTA developments from around the country.

Among other significant updates, we were interested to learn about proposed supreme court rule amendments in South Dakota and the Virgin Islands that would require mandatory attorney participation in the IOLTA programs in both of these jurisdictions. The Virgin Islands’ IOLTA rule amendments also include provisions that, if adopted, would establish interest rate comparability requirements. Both courts currently are considering comments on the proposed rule amendments.

Additionally, we reviewed and discussed the Monitor’s report, released on August 31, 2016, regarding Bank of America’s progress under its 2014 mortgage settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. According to the report, the initial distribution of funds to IOLTA organizations (to be granted to legal aid organizations for foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment legal assistance) under the consumer relief portion of the agreement has been completed. Further, the report indicates that all but one of the U.S. IOLTA programs have received subsequent distributions made in accordance with the tax relief portion of the settlement agreement. The Commission has learned that, since the August report was issued, all U.S. jurisdictions entitled to the bank settlement funds have now received them. While some IOLTA programs have granted bank settlement funds already, most remain in the process of determining how grants will be made in their jurisdictions.

We invited our gracious hosts and other distinguished guests from North Carolina to join us during our lunch break in order to thank them for their hospitality and learn more about IOLTA and access to justice issues in their state. We were fortunate to be joined by:  Justice Cherie Beasley of the North Carolina Supreme Court, who also serves as the Vice Chair of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission (NCEATJC); John McMillan, Chair of the North Carolina State Bar Plan for Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (NC IOLTA); Edward Winslow III, Vice Chair of NC IOLTA; Evelyn Pursley, Executive Director of NC IOLTA; Jennifer Lechner, Executive Director of NCEATJC; and Mary Irvine, Access to Justice Coordinator for NC IOLTA/NCEATJC.

At lunch, we learned about the collaborative work being done by the North Carolina IOLTA program, the North Carolina Supreme Court, and the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission (NCEATJC). NCEATJC was established in 2005 by supreme court order, with staff services initially funded by an IOLTA grant. NCEATJC coordinates the annual access to justice fundraising campaign and developed an economic benefits report to help educate legislators and others regarding the return on investment for legal aid funding. Recently, NCEATJC established the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, which develops pro bono projects with existing statewide stakeholders and provides support for pro bono recruitment, training, and opportunities.

We also heard about one of the more innovative funding mechanisms that we have come across, as North Carolina is the only state in the country that provides funding for access to justice through CLE credit hour fees. In late 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court approved an amendment to the state bar rules that increased the amount of this funding from $.50 to $1.00 per credit hour, all of which is allocated to support NCEATJC activities.

On another note, I would like to welcome three new members who are beginning their terms of service on the Commission this fall:  Annette Kwok of Washington, D.C., Traci Ray of Oregon, and Carolyn Witherspoon of Arkansas (see the IOLTA News and Notes section to read more about them). I look forward to working with them and know they will contribute significantly to the Commission’s endeavors.

Lastly, I remind you to mark your calendars for the upcoming Winter 2017 IOLTA Workshops, which will take place in Miami, Florida on February 2-3, 2017. These workshops provide a unique opportunity to network with colleagues and gain invaluable insights into current issues facing the IOLTA community.