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Bar News - December 19, 2008

Chapter 2: IOLTA Funding and Bar Integration Keys to Strong Program

Referral marathons have become a dependable means of placing cases and involving members of the Bar. Left to right, Pam Peterson, Kathy Shanelaris, and Katherine Stearns. All are members of the Pro Bono Governing Board.

To sustain a viable Pro Bono Program requires more than goodwill and good intentions. It requires funding to support a meaningful infrastructure and support system. Over the years, the funding base has diversified. Due to changes in federal guidelines, Pro Bono had to move away from its initial source, the Legal Services Corporation, and pursue other sources, such as United Way allocations. This source of funding, though, has fallen off in recent years as United Ways pursue a different allocation model.

Taking the reins for a short stint as Pro Bono Director, Sam Farrington witnessed the NH Bar’s pioneering role in creating the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts Program that has helped to ensure the long term viability of the Pro Bono Program and its civil legal services partners. Pro Bono began receiving IOLTA funds in 1983 and has come to rely on this support as the cornerstone of its budget. Currently, IOLTA makes up about 45 percent of Pro Bono annual revenues, with the remaining dozen sources reflecting a mix of individually raised monies and grants.

Pro Bono has had success with various funders by making the case that the program leverages its budget many times over in donated attorney time and services through its coordination and support functions. For some of its grants, Pro Bono applies the value of contributed attorney time as a match for funding dollars. The enormity of today’s economic downturn is dramatically impacting IOLTA income, which, in turn translates into far fewer grant dollars. The severity of cuts is not yet known but trends indicate it will be substantial, necessitating the search for other funds, collaborative triage with Pro Bono’s legal services partners and more champions. This much is known—without other funding sources to make up the difference, services will have to be cut.

At around the same time the Bar launched the IOLTA Program, the Association also brought Pro Bono under its umbrella. Program Director for ten years, Steven Scudder – now counsel to the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service – began his tenure during Pro Bono’s integration within the Bar Association. Bringing Pro Bono and the Bar Association closer together had many benefits, including access and better coordination with Bar publications and continuing legal education programs as well as accounting and other support. In addition, the move provided the setting to launch the "referral marathon" method of placing cases in which attorneys call on their peers to accept cases. It also marked the beginning of annual awards recognizing the outstanding contributions of volunteer lawyers presented in conjunction with Bar Association meetings.

Perhaps most important of all, Pro Bono’s incorporation into the Bar Association has contributed to the sense of ownership and pride attorneys have in the Program, giving Pro Bono the legitimacy and credibility it continues to enjoy.

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