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August 19, 2016 Dialogue

IOLTA: From the Chair

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

In early August, I joined my fellow members of the ABA Commission on IOLTA for several productive days in San Francisco, where the Commission’s summer business meeting was held, in conjunction with the Summer 2016 IOLTA Workshops and ABA Annual Meeting.

While attending the ABA Annual Meeting, I closely tracked the progress of the cy pres resolution submitted to the House of Delegates by the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID), which was co-sponsored by the Commission. The resolution urges jurisdictions to adopt court rules or legislation authorizing the award of class action residual funds to nonprofit organizations that improve access to civil justice for persons living in poverty, after all reasonable efforts to fully compensate members of the class, or a determination that such payments are not feasible, has been made.

The idea of using cy pres awards for purposes of supporting legal services is gaining in popularity. With the recent addition of South Carolina and Wisconsin (see News and Notes), court rules and statutes that specify charitable entities promoting access to justice to be appropriate cy pres recipients have now been adopted in 21 states. In 17 of these states, organizations responsible for administering IOLTA funds are among those that have been specifically designated as appropriate recipients. Further, a minimum baseline distribution (usually 25% to 50%) has been mandated in 11 of these states.

I am pleased to report that on August 8, 2016, the ABA House of Delegates approved the cy pres resolution co-sponsored by the Commission, thereby officially supporting this creative approach to funding civil legal aid. The Commission is proud to promote this vital and timely policy.

The Summer 2016 IOLTA Workshops, co-produced by the Commission and the National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP), were successful thanks to the diligent efforts of the Commission/NAIP Joint Meetings Committee, as well as the knowledgeable presenters. Among the many innovative and educational programs featured at the Summer Workshops were sessions that:  explored the value of social media for IOLTA programs; analyzed whether hypothetical deposit products offered by financial institutions complied with IOLTA comparability rules; introduced “learning from failure” strategies as a way to move toward success in the workplace; and discussed strategies for newer IOLTA directors regarding how to excel at providing leadership and working with board members and other access to justice partners. In addition, plenary sessions focused on how IOLTA programs are implementing the bank settlement agreements, how to produce studies that quantify social and economic returns on investment resulting from the work of IOLTA grantees, and the lessons learned by the IOLTA programs that received Public Welfare Foundation mini-grants in 2014 to enhance relationships with private philanthropic foundations.

Immediately following the Summer Workshops, Commission members, liaisons, and guests met to discuss the latest developments with regard to IOLTA and access to justice during the Commission’s business meeting. As the meeting came to a close, we were confronted with the unhappy task of bidding a fond farewell to three colleagues (and friends) whose terms on the Commission are ending.

Jill Hasegawa’s leadership as co-chair of the Commission on IOLTA/NAIP Joint Communications Committee has been instrumental in helping to raise the profile of the work of IOLTA programs and their grantees throughout the country. Justice Kaye Hearn’s unique perspective and involvement in access to justice issues have served the Commission and IOLTA community extremely well. Lastly, the Commission is indebted to Chad Hooker for his expert advice and guidance as co-chair of the Joint Resource Development/Banking Committee.

On behalf of the Commission members and staff, I cannot thank these three individuals enough for their valuable contributions to the IOLTA mission. While the loss for our Commission is great, I know their dedication to increasing access to justice for those living in poverty will remain steadfast.