The North Carolina State Bar Plan for Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (“IOLTA”) was established by the North Carolina State Bar and the North Carolina Supreme Court to generate income from lawyers' trust accounts in order to fund programs for the public's benefit.
NC IOLTA Program
|Grants for Legal Services to the Indigent and Improvement of Administration of Justice|
NC IOLTA provides vital funding in support of the public interest
NC IOLTA has been a vital source of funding for the provision of civil legal service to the poor through grants made to staffed legal services programs and volunteer lawyer programs that serve every county in the state and for other programs that work to improve the administration of justice. Since its first grants were made in 1984, NC IOLTA has provided over $50 million to provide legal assistance for at-risk children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor in need of basic necessities, and to help lawyers connect with those who need their pro bono assistance. Other innovative programs have assisted the Administrative Office of the Courts with its need for interpreter services; put law students into public interest summer internships to help them understand the need for public interest and pro bono service; trained local officials on how to provide safe and humane jails; provided first rate judicial education to NC judges; and leveraged state funds provided to assist young lawyers in public interest practice pay off law school loans.
Equal access to justice is fundamental to our system of democratic government and necessary to the maintenance of public trust and confidence in the courts. Its denial has an adverse impact not only upon individuals and families, but also on society as a whole.
Lawyers have a professional responsibility to do what they reasonably can to increase the availability of legal services for all, regardless of the ability to pay. (See Preamble to NC Rules of Professional Responsibility, 0.1 [7-9]) In recognition of this professional obligation, the North Carolina State Bar adopted in 1983, with the approval of the NC Supreme Court, the Plan for Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (NC IOLTA) by means of which funds generated from interest earned on pooled client trust accounts could be used to provide funding for civil legal aid and other projects that improve the administration of justice.
Despite these and other efforts, statistical information tends to demonstrate that less than 20% of the legal needs of poor people in North Carolina are being met. NC IOLTA and the NC State Bar identified modifications to the IOLTA program that could increase income for these important purposes. In 2008, NC IOLTA became one of now 43 (of 52) jurisdictions implementing a mandatory IOLTA program thereby increasing funding available to meet the bar’s obligation to ensure equal access to justice. In 2010, the IOLTA rules were revised to require lawyers to hold their IOLTA accounts only at banks that will agree to pay IOLTA accounts the highest rate available to that bank’s other customers when the IOLTA accounts meet the same minimum balance or other account qualifications (comparability requirement). North Carolina was the 31st (of 52) jurisdiction to require comparability. These changes should provide much-needed additional support for our access to justice community and other innovative programs in the public interest without requiring attorneys to provide their time or monetary support.