February 17, 2017 Dialogue

IOLTA: From the Chair

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

As 2017 unfolds, it appears likely that the provision of civil legal services will face greater uncertainty and challenges under the new U.S. presidential administration than our community has seen in quite some time. These circumstances highlight how critical our semiannual gatherings are now, more than ever. The Winter 2017 IOLTA Workshops, recently held in Miami, provided exactly the type of supportive and productive environment necessary for IOLTA program staff and trustees to come together, take stock in our current situation, and strategize for the future.

There were many informative and enlightening sessions offered at the Winter Workshops thanks to the diligent efforts of the Joint Meetings/Trainings Committee, which includes members of the Commission on IOLTA (Commission) and the National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP). In one session, attendees shared the latest information regarding the distribution of bank settlement funds in their jurisdictions by engaging in interactive roundtable discussions. Other workshops featured the discussion of topics useful for the day-to-day management and operation of IOLTA programs , including how to deal with underperforming grantees, how to find new partners in building support for legal aid, and the uses of grantee data in making resource allocation decisions and evaluating program performance and impact.

Some of the sessions were primarily forward-looking in their focus, such as the panel discussion with members of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services, who reviewed findings and recommendations from their final report and discussed plans for implementing projects. Another session, involving IOLTA leaders and industry experts from the fields of information and computer technology, examined the potential effect of radical technological disruptions within the financial services industry on the use of IOLTA accounts and revenue.

The Commission met after the Winter Workshops concluded to conduct its winter business meeting. Among many other items, we discussed the following pieces of IOLTA-related good news:  First, the Supreme Court of South Dakota has adopted IOLTA rule amendments that will convert the status of attorney participation in that state’s IOLTA program from voluntary to mandatory, effective April 1, 2017. Second, the long-awaited interest rate increase finally arrived on December 14, 2016, when the Federal Open Market Committee raised the federal funds rate target range to one-half to three-fourths percent.

As we look ahead, I ask that you mark your calendars for the Summer IOLTA Workshops, which will take place in New York City at the Marriott Marquis on August 10-11, 2017. As always, these workshops provide a unique opportunity to network with colleagues and gain invaluable insights into current issues facing the IOLTA community.

Finally, it is with a heavy heart that I would like to close this issue’s column by paying tribute to one of our dear friends and colleagues, Charles Hey-Maestre, who passed away recently. I first met Charlie during the Winter 2016 IOLTA Workshops in San Diego, which he attended on behalf of the Puerto Rico Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, Inc. He was highly respected as a longtime champion of equal justice and committed advocate for the formation of an IOLTA program in Puerto Rico. Charlie was a shining light and inspiration within our close-knit community, and he will be deeply missed.