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IOLTA Update

• New Staff. In October, NC IOLTA welcomed two new staff to the department. Colleen Bishop, administrative assistant, will assist with recordkeeping for IOLTA attorney compliance and bank data, as well as provide administrative support to other department functions. Daniel Labarca, program manager, will oversee IOLTA’s grantmaking including application, reporting, and monitoring processes.

• IOLTA Revenue. Revenue from participant income has remained steady in 2021, tracking 2019 income figures after seeing a decrease in income in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Funds received through September exceed $3.6 million.

• 2022 Grants. Staff are currently reviewing 2022 grant applications received in October in anticipation of the IOLTA Board’s grantmaking meeting which will take place on December 2. In total, NC IOLTA received 27 applications requesting more than $5 million in grant funding for 2022.

In January 2021, NC IOLTA initiated a strategic planning process to create a clear roadmap to guide IOLTA’s work in the coming years. Through the efforts of committed volunteers, staff, and stakeholders, NC IOLTA has matured since establishment in 1983. For example, rule changes made the program mandatory in 2008 and required comparability in 2010 (that is, required that IOLTA accounts only be held at eligible banks that agree to pay the highest available rate on IOLTA accounts meeting the same minimum balance or other requirements), with the goal of maximizing income for grantmaking. The objective of the strategic planning process was to identify a new phase of opportunities for NC IOLTA’s growth, consistent with the program’s founding principles and building upon achievements made since inception.

The Executive Committee of the board led the strategic planning process, with the participation of the full board and staff and the support of consultants Stephanie Choy and Lonnie Powers, leaders who have worked professionally to support, improve, and grow civil legal aid for decades. The process included 19 stakeholder interviews and a community forum for feedback on the draft plan. The IOLTA Board approved the strategic plan on June 23, 2021. This fall, IOLTA Board and staff are connecting with stakeholders, including grantees, leaders within the legal profession, and licensed North Carolina attorneys, to share the results of this process.

NC IOLTA’s vision is a North Carolina where all people can effectively meet their legal needs. This is a description of the place where we would like to be in the future if all of the organization’s goals and aspirations are met. As a profession, we have long recognized this ideal in North Carolina. The Preamble of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct calls on all lawyers to devote professional time and resources to the improvement of the law, access to the legal system, and the administration of justice, saying “at their best, lawyers assure the availability of legal services to all, regardless of ability to pay.” It is this professional obligation of all lawyers which was central to the creation of the program in 1983 by the North Carolina State Bar with the approval of the North Carolina Supreme Court. This principle remains central to the program today.

NC IOLTA’s mission is to improve the lives of North Carolinians by strengthening the justice system as a leader, partner, and funder. This statement of purpose emphasizes the program’s role and the opportunities that we have to make an impact. The core values that the IOLTA program strives to embody in pursuit of this mission and through daily operation include integrity, stewardship, equity, leadership, and partnership.

Five broad goals were identified, summarized in brief below, for NC IOLTA’s work over the next several years:

Goal 1. Be a responsive and responsible grantmaker that engages in effective stewardship of funds to advance its mission. Since the first grants were made in 1985, IOLTA has approved more than $100 million in grant awards. With this goal, IOLTA seeks to continue stable support to grantees while also evaluating grant priorities and considering ways that IOLTA can use grants to foster leadership, collaboration, and improvement, and strengthen partnerships within the civil justice community.

Goal 2. Solidify, increase, and diversify NC IOLTA funding. IOLTA relies heavily on interest earned on lawyers’ trust accounts, a source subject to the ebbs and flows of the market. To work toward the mission and vision, IOLTA must be involved in efforts to increase funds for civil legal aid.

Goal 3. Heighten communications about the benefits produced by IOLTA and the need for increased civil legal aid. IOLTA heard continuously throughout the strategic planning process that increased communication about the program’s impact and the need for civil legal aid is critical. Through this goal, IOLTA seeks to create a communication plan designed to reach all potential supporters of civil legal aid, utilizing data, stories, and connections to build awareness.

Goal 4. Embrace IOLTA’s leadership role in the justice community. As a statewide funder focused on civil legal aid, IOLTA is uniquely positioned to support the civil justice community by embracing a leadership role. IOLTA envisions building on existing partnerships with stakeholder organizations and investing in our ability to convene, evaluate, and lead.

Goal 5. Build organizational capacity to pursue identified priorities, support sustainability, and address new issues as they arise. IOLTA acknowledges that identified objectives require an investment of staffing and other resources. IOLTA will work to identify the capacity and resources needed to pursue these objectives and support organizational sustainability.
The full plan can be found at nciolta.org. For more information about NC IOLTA’s strategic plan, contact Mary Irvine, Executive Director, NC IOLTA at mirvine@ncbar.gov or 919-828-0477.