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May 19, 2017 Dialogue

IOLTA: From the Chair

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

The IOLTA community has long been a stalwart supporter of robust funding for the Legal Services Corporation. Recent events have confirmed our need to remain vigilant on this front. On March 16, 2017, President Trump announced his FY 2018 budget proposal, in which all funding for LSC is eliminated. The ABA immediately issued an urgent call to action through its “Legal Aid Defender” initiative, asking all supporters of legal services to contact Congress and demand adequate funding for LSC.

During ABA Day in early April, I was heartened to learn about the many IOLTA leaders who answered the ABA’s call by advocating on behalf of LSC in their meetings with members of Congress. On April 30, after reaching a bipartisan agreement to avoid a government shutdown, Congress approved what is essentially level funding ($385 million) for LSC for the remainder of the current fiscal year, ending in September 30, 2017. The President signed the bill into law on May 5, 2017.

While this is cause for great relief among members of the access to justice community, we must remain vigilant in our advocacy regarding funding for LSC in the FY 2018 budget. I know that I will be able to count on the IOLTA community to be at the forefront of these efforts.

The Commission on IOLTA held its spring business meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana and had the opportunity to meet with IOLTA and other access to justice leaders in the state. Our guests at this meeting included:  Valerie Briggs Bargas, President-Elect of the Louisiana Bar Foundation (which administers the state’s IOLTA program); Donna Cuneo, Executive Director of the Louisiana Bar Foundation; Marta-Ann Schnabel, Co-Chair of the Louisiana Access to Justice Commission; and Monte Mollere, Access to Justice Director of the Louisiana State Bar Association.

Our guests shared information about several innovative and collaborative projects of the Louisiana Access to Justice Commission, the Louisiana Bar Foundation, and the Louisiana State Bar Association. These projects included:  (1) an Economic Impact Study, completed in December 2016, which demonstrates a social return on investment of $8 for every $1 invested in civil legal aid in Louisiana; (2) the Louisiana Re-Entry Collaborative Lawyering Program, through which pro bono attorneys complete a training and work with community organizations to help individuals recently released from prison to avoid civil legal pitfalls that may increase the likelihood of recidivism; and (3) the Access to Justice Developing Leadership Internship, through which interns (sponsored by law firms) work with civil legal aid organizations and attend seminars aimed at developing leadership skills.

During our meeting, we also discussed the excellent programming that is being planned for the upcoming Summer 2017 IOLTA Workshops, which will take place in New York, New York on August 10-11, 2017, at the Marriott Marquis.