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May 19, 2016 Dialogue

IOLTA: From the Chair

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

On April 30, members of the Commission on IOLTA gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah for its regular business meeting and to discuss the latest developments in access to justice. One of the many important items on the agenda involved a request from the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) to co-sponsor its proposed resolution—to be submitted to the House of Delegates during the ABA Annual Meeting in August 2016—regarding the distribution of cy pres awards to nonprofit organizations that improve access to legal services for low-income individuals.

To date, court rules and statutes have been adopted in 19 states that specify charitable entities promoting access to justice to be appropriate cy pres recipients, and a minimum baseline distribution (usually 25% to 50%) has been mandated in nine of these states.  Further, in 12 of these states, organizations responsible for administering IOLTA funds are among those that have been specifically designated as appropriate charitable entities authorized to receive cy pres funds.

SCLAID’s proposed resolution urges jurisdictions to adopt court rules or legislation that authorize nonprofit organizations that improve access to civil justice for persons in poverty as appropriate recipients under certain circumstances. Specifically, the resolution provides that cy pres awards should only be distributed to such organizations once every effort has been made to fully compensate members of the class, or once it has been determined that such payments are not feasible. I am happy to report that, after discussion, members of the Commission agreed that the resolution promotes a creative and appropriate means for increasing much-needed legal aid funding and unanimously voted to co-sponsor the resolution.

During our lunch break, we were fortunate to learn about local IOLTA developments from our guests, including Walt Romney (President of the Utah Bar Foundation), Peggy Hunt (Board Member of the Utah Bar Foundation), Kim Paulding (Executive Director of the Utah Bar Foundation), John Baldwin (Executive Director of the Utah State Bar), Tyler Needham (Director of the Access to Justice Program of the Utah State Bar), and Kai Wilson (Executive Director for And Justice For All).

Specifically, the Utah Bar Foundation (which administers IOLTA funds in the state) and the Utah State Bar are working on proposals for the state supreme court to:  (1) expand IOLTA rules to allow for the expedited release of bank records to the state bar’s Office of Professional Conduct in cases of IOLTA account overdraft; and (2) attach an “add-on” fee to current pro hac vice fees and provide that the additional funds go directly to the IOLTA program. Additionally, our guests shared details regarding the impressive “And Justice For All” annual law firm campaign, which was established in 1999 by the state’s three largest legal aid providers and has consistently yielded the second highest amount of attorney contributions per capita for legal aid in the country.

I would like to close by encouraging all members of the IOLTA community to attend the upcoming 2016 Summer IOLTA Workshops on August 4th and 5th in San Francisco, California at the Grand Hyatt. Co–sponsored by the ABA Commission on IOLTA and the National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP), these two days of topical sessions provide invaluable networking and educational experiences for IOLTA program executive directors and staff members. I look forward to seeing you there.