Bar News - December 16, 2011
Jack Middleton: Father of IOLTA, a $28 Million Prize for NH
By: Dan Wise
Last fall, Jack Middleton made headlines for his moose-hunting triumph: bagging a moose with the largest rack in the state’s history at 68.5 inches wide.
But Middleton can lay claim to a bigger, more meaningful prize – responsibility for the $28 million cumulative total raised for charitable purposes through the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program over its 30-year history. Middleton championed the creation of IOLTA in New Hampshire, which became one of the earliest states to implement the revenue-raising mechanism in 1982.
Middleton, who in January returned for a second stint as chair of the NH Bar Foundation (he first chaired the Foundation from 1983 to 1989), has long been a champion of legal services, Bar Association leadership, and charitable causes.
After completing his term as president of the NH Bar Association in 1979-1980, he became active in bar activities on a national scale. At an ABA meeting in the early 1980s, he heard about an innovative concept pioneered in the US in Florida that allowed the creation of pooled interest-bearing accounts for trust account deposits of small amounts or those held for short periods of time. These accounts would capture interest that would otherwise be lost for deposits where it would have been impractical to create separate client accounts. The amounts earned by each deposit were small, but collectively, they could amount to something.
Middleton brought the IOLTA concept to New Hampshire and successfully petitioned the NH Supreme Court to enact enabling rules. At oral argument on his petition, Middleton recalls being asked by a justice how much he thought could be raised. Middleton’s initial estimate was $50,000 in a year for all accounts statewide. In less than two years (1994), IOLTA was earning more than twice that amount. "I think it was great that New Hampshire jumped on this as quickly as we did," said Middleton. Many other states also followed Florida’s lead, but New Hampshire was the second program to be operational nationwide.
As New Hampshire’s economy cycled up and down, IOLTA revenue has fluctuated, affected by both interest rate variations and transaction volume. Annual IOLTA revenue soared as high as $1.7 million five years ago, propelling the NH Bar Foundation into the key role it plays today as the largest single funding source for civil legal services for the poor.
Due to the continuing decline of interest rates and a much lower level of business activity, IOLTA revenues have dropped to around $1 million per year. The challenges for IOLTA grantees are greater that ever, both due to demand for their services and other sources of funding diminishing as well.
Last year, the NH Supreme Court converted New Hampshire’s voluntary IOLTA program into a mandatory one, following the lead of the majority of other states, and while participation in IOLTA has increased slightly over the relatively high participation level as a voluntary program, the struggling economy has kept revenue down.
As a result the Bar Foundation is looking at reinvigorating other means of support for the Bar Foundation. Earlier this month, the Bar Foundation launched the Justice Fund campaign, aimed at encouraging law firms to contribute to named, permanent funds which embrace aspects of the Bar Foundation’s mission that are especially important to particular firms.
"The needs are tremendous," remarks Middleton, saying that the funds that law firms create will go to support important civil legal needs, and be a source of pride for the law firm, establishing an enduring legacy that makes tangible its dedication to equal justice.
The Bar Foundation also conducts an annual appeal to provide sustaining support for the Bar Foundation’s operations which in turn support innovative programs such as this year’s Civics in Action program, which has trained lawyers to serve as "ambassadors" for greater awareness of the need for better civics education and is arranging presentations at every Rotary Club in New Hampshire this year.
Middleton is working closely with Jeannine McCoy, the NHBA Executive Director who is serving as interim executive director of the Foundation, and with retired Probate Court Judge John Maher, the part-time development director for the Foundation.
Middleton, long identified with the Bar Foundation, was its longest serving chair and he played key roles in two of its capital campaigns for the first and second Bar Center sites. Beyond the Foundation and the NH Bar, Middleton’s involvement with the legal community has been extensive and nationwide in scope. Nationally, he served as trustee and president of the National Conference of Bar Foundations, National Conference of Bar Presidents, and is a member of the House of Delegates (and a former Secretary) of the American Bar Association.
Middleton served as a director of the National Center for State Courts, and for 19 years served on the New Hampshire Supreme Court Rules Committee. His civic and professional leadership roles – the NH Business and Industry Association, Manchester Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Manchester, to name a few – are too numerous to catalog here.
Middleton said the tradition of public service was instilled in him by his mentor and former partner, John R. McLane, who set a high standard of public service participation by lawyers. "We have a special privilege to practice law," says Middleton, "so we have a special responsibility – and I believe NH lawyers are doing that. There are so many nonprofit groups that lawyers are helping. It would be hard to find a nonprofit or civic organization that does not have a lawyer or even two on their boards.
"And we know that there are many lawyers contributing time and effort to pro bono cases, generously contributing to helping people who otherwise could not afford their help," he adds.
Middleton does more than talk the talk. For the past few years, he has personally accepted referrals through the DOVE Project, which provides short-notice, short-term representation of domestic violence victims at restraining order hearings, having last taken a case this fall.
To find out more about the Bar Foundation, visit www.nhbarfoundation.org. There is even an option to make online donations. To find out more about the new Justice Fund initiative of the NH Bar Foundation, contact John R. Maher.