In December 2009, the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission and the D.C. Consortium of Legal Service Providers issued a report that reflected the negative effect the financial crisis has had on the funding of legal aid programs in the DC.
Among other things, the report revealed a 60 percent drop in Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), which is an important source of funding for legal aid; a 20 percent drop in local government funding support for legal services; and a decrease of more than $1 million in charitable donations and volunteer services. As a result, 21 lawyers working for legal aid organizations along with 30 non lawyers had to be laid off. At the same time these cuts were being made, the demand for legal assistance increased by 20 percent.
The DC experience is mirrored in Connecticut, which has traditionally also been largely dependent on IOLTA accounts to provide funds for its legal service organizations. One Connecticut legal service organization avoided layoffs by its staff of lawyers and non lawyers agreeing to a 20 percent reduction in salaries and a 4 day work week.
The IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee, the IBA Bar Issues Commission, and the IBA Forum for Barristers and Advocates will be co-presenting a session at the IBA Annual Conference in Vancouver, 3-8 October 2010, that will explore the issue of legal aid funding, including the ramifications when governments fail to provide adequate funding for legal aid programs.
We doubt that DC and Connecticut are unique in suffering these problems and would welcome further examples from other jurisdictions in order further to inform our Vancouver discussions.
Patricia N Blair
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee