Bar News - April 17, 2009
NHLA in a Down Economy: Rising Need, Falling Funding
By: John Tobin
Editor’s note: Details on the IOLTA grant levels for the 2009-2010 fiscal year will be published in the May 15 issue of Bar News.
Because of the steep decline in IOLTA revenue, New Hampshire Legal Assistance’s IOLTA grant beginning June 1, 2009 has been slashed from $1,125,000 to $579,000, a loss of $546,000, nearly 50 percent. This amounts to a 13 percent decrease in our overall revenue.
A number of other legal services programs were also affected by the IOLTA cuts. The NHBA Pro Bono Program, which relies on IOLTA for an even larger portion of its budget, was hit hard. The Legal Advice & Referral Center also is experiencing funding reductions. Coming on top of other cyclical and recession-driven funding declines, these cutbacks present significant challenges.
These funding losses have occurred at a time when the economic downturn and turmoil in the housing market have greatly increased the need for our services.
Because the Bar Foundation was very forthright in alerting us many months ago about the revenue decline and its inevitable impact on grant levels, NHLA has been taking steps since last summer to manage our program in response to this grim development. In September, 2008, we laid off five employees and over the past eight months we have left five other positions vacant. As a result, NHLA is 20 percent smaller than it was in July 2008. We have five fewer lawyers, one fewer paralegal, and four fewer support staff. We now have 19 lawyers, 9 paralegals and 10 support staff. At the same time, we have instituted a salary freeze, decreased the scope of our basic health insurance, and taken a number of other steps to save money.
Faced with the multiple burdens of increasing client need, a smaller staff with which to help clients, and diminished compensation and benefits, the staff of NHLA has responded with creativity, renewed dedication, and goodwill. We know that New Hampshire’s legal community will do all that it can to strengthen the IOLTA program now and over the long run.
We also urge every New Hampshire lawyer to contribute as generously as possible to the Campaign for Legal Services, the joint fundraising effort of NHLA, Pro Bono, and the Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC). For information about how to contribute to the Campaign, please call Lea Caron at 224-4107, extension 2828.
Many attorneys also contribute by donating their time to represent indigent clients and the need for this help is now greater than ever. Interested attorneys should contact Ginny Martin at the Pro Bono Program at email@example.com.
John Tobin is executive director of NH Legal Assistance.