You, as lawyers, know first-hand the barriers that low-income and disadvantaged people encounter when trying to access the justice system.
As you may be aware, over the last several years, we have seen a significant decrease in Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) income. Given the severe downturn in real estate activity, and the precipitous decline of interest rates paid by financial institutions which administer IOLTA accounts, we are clearly far below the IOLTA levels we enjoyed in prior years. Of course, the real victims of these circumstances are the IOLTA grantees we have serviced for so many years.
As you know, the IOLTA fund provides significant contributions to Rhode Island Legal Services, the International Institute, the Rhode Island Legal Educational Partnership Program and many other worthy entities. These grantees are certainly suffering devastating cuts not only from our IOLTA program, but from other sources of income as well.
This situation is certainly not unique to Rhode Island. Across our country, Bar Foundations have been and continue to struggle with severe decreases in income while addressing an increase in need from grantees. Indeed, many of our fellow Bar Foundations have effectively closed their doors to their IOLTA programs. The net effect, of course, is a devastating blow to low income people most in need of our services, their health and safety remain at risk and the impact on the elderly, victims of domestic violence, the disabled, children, veterans, and others is incalculable.
On one hand, I am proud to say that the Rhode Island Bar Foundation IOLTA Program has survived these circumstances. This is due, largely, to the hard work of the Board of Directors, and the finance and grant committee members who long ago recognized the need to have a reserve on hand in the event that there were some vagaries in the interest markets or the real estate markets. However, having said that, and despite our conservatism and our reserve accounts, we too have had to substantially cut our funding to our grantees, nearly 75% in the last three years alone. Bottom line is we need your help.
For the IOLTA program to stay viable, more operating costs now need to be absorbed by the general foundation and we are working toward that objective. The Bar Foundation needs more revenue allocated for the general operating costs associated with staying in business, such as maintenance of the Rhode Island Law Center, which services our Bar Association CLE programs, legal clinics, mediation programs, law related education programs, and serves many other purposes. We need more revenue as well to maintain the administration of other vital programs such as the Thomas F. Black, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Program which we have been so fortunate to maintain for many years and benefiting numerous award winners who have gone on to do great things in the law.
You, as lawyers, know first-hand the barriers that low-income and disadvantaged people encounter when trying to access the justice system. What I am asking in these dire times, is that each of you consider making a contribution to the Bar Foundation to help us address these challenges, maintain the viability of our Rhode Island IOLTA program, and continue to benefit those most in need of our good counsel and services. May I be so bold as to suggest at minimum the equivalent of one billable hour as a fair contribution?
Please use this link
to access a form for you to complete and return if you choose to so contribute at this time to the Foundation. Thank you so very much for your support, and please accept my sincere wishes to you and your family for health, happiness and peace in this coming year.