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November 17, 2017 Dialogue

IOLTA: From the Chair

By Carolyn Witherspoon, Commission on Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts

As I begin my term as Chair of the Commission on IOLTA, I am honored to follow in the footsteps of Judge Jim Hill, with whom I had the great pleasure of working as a member of the commission for the past year. Under Jim's leadership, the commission continued its successful collaboration with the National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP) to provide critical training, technical assistance, and resources to state IOLTA programs. It is a distinct privilege to be able to contribute to this essential work as the commission's new chair, and I look forward to working with my fellow commission members, NAIP colleagues, and the IOLTA community at large.

The commission met in Baltimore, Maryland for its recent fall meeting, where we welcomed returning members as well as three new members: Mark Braley of Richmond, Virginia; Michelle Wong Krause of Dallas, Texas; and Edward Winslow III of Greensboro, North Carolina (see News and Notes). The meeting provided a wonderful opportunity for members to get to know each other and discuss recent developments in the IOLTA and access to justice arenas. As is our usual practice, we met during our lunch time with members of the local IOLTA and access to justice communities to learn about their successes and challenges.

Specifically, the commission learned about a wide variety of programs that are underway to assist low-income Marylanders in accessing critical legal and law-related services. For example, the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), which administers the state's IOLTA program, has been working with philanthropic organizations to develop a relationship with them as well as educate them regarding the need to provide private funding for civil legal aid. Over the past year, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission has supported legal reform efforts relating to a fee shifting bill, right to counsel legislation, and civil legal aid funding. Meanwhile, the Access to Justice Department of the Administrative Office of the Courts is supporting self-represented litigants, by providing necessary resources to the public, and critical language services, including an expansive court interpreter program. We thoroughly enjoyed the informative discussion, which illuminated the Maryland legal community's dedication to providing necessary funding and resources for ensuring access to justice in that state.

As you likely know, the commission annually gathers wide-ranging data from IOLTA programs and compiles the data to produce its IOLTA Handbook, which was recently distributed to IOLTA programs. At our meeting in Baltimore, we also discussed some of the findings from the 2016 data collection regarding national IOLTA income and grants figures. We were pleased to hear that national IOLTA income increased by 8 percent between 2015–2016, though this still constitutes a 77 percent decline when compared to the height of national IOLTA income in 2007. Further, IOLTA grants increased by a smaller margin of 2.8 percent in 2016, which can be explained by the fact that many IOLTA programs pay grants from the previous year's income. In addition, many programs are in the process of rebuilding reserves following the precipitous decline in income after 2008. Nevertheless, the figures continue to show an upward trend, which is certainly encouraging.

We also discussed the exceptional programming that is being planned for the upcoming Winter 2018 IOLTA Workshops, which will take place at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver in Vancouver, British Columbia on February 1–2, 2018. Please mark your calendars for these workshops, as they provide a unique opportunity to network with colleagues and gain invaluable insights into current issues facing the IOLTA community.