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Bar News - September 20, 2017


NH Bar Foundation: Highlighting the Difference-Makers in NH’s IOLTA Program
9 Leadership and 7 Partner banks and credit unions accounted for 84 percent of IOLTA revenue earned in fiscal year 2017.

Dan Wise, at left, communications and outreach consultant for the NH Bar Foundation, speaks about IOLTA participation at a national meeting of IOLTA representatives in New York City in mid-August. Other panelists, from left, include Richard Winder, deputy director of the Michigan State Bar Foundation; Terri Smith-Ashford, director of banking and operations for the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois; and Ellen Soucy, vice president and business development officer at Bank of New Hampshire and a member of the NHBF Board of Directors.

There are 51 banks and credit unions currently participating in the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program in New Hampshire, but there’s a subset of institutions that make NH’s IOLTA program special.

Nine IOLTA banks and credit unions are members of the Leadership Circle because they are paying up to 2 percent interest on IOLTA accounts. Another seven institutions are designated as Partner Level institutions, which are paying between 1 and 1.99 percent. Together the Leadership and Partner banks and credit unions accounted for 84 percent of IOLTA revenue earned in fiscal year 2017 (ended May 31). Last year, NH IOLTA earned $789,000. Of that amount, $700,000 was awarded as grants to support civil legal aid in fiscal year 2017.

These days, paying 2 percent, or even 1 percent, on IOLTA deposits translates to a substantial contribution that helps needy residents of New Hampshire secure the legal help they need. A recent survey of IOLTA programs across the country showed New Hampshire has more financial institutions paying 2 percent than any other IOLTA program, and earns almost as much from IOLTA as many larger states. Despite the ups and (mostly downs) of interest rates and business activity in the past 10 years, New Hampshire’s IOLTA program has continued to be an important source of funding for civil legal aid, because of the small but dedicated group of community banks and credit unions that pay above-market interest on IOLTA accounts.

Representatives of the NH Bar Foundation in August were invited to the National Association of IOLTA Programs summer workshop in New York City to discuss how the NH Bar Foundation works with the financial community. Ellen Soucy, vice president for business development for Bank of New Hampshire, and Dan Wise, a communications consultant assisting the foundation, participated in a panel discussion before about 40 representatives of IOLTA programs from around the United States.

For several years, relationships with IOLTA institutions have been managed with the help of the IOLTA Enhancement Committee, currently chaired by Lynne Parker, executive director of NH Legal Assistance, an IOLTA grant recipient. The committee, which includes Foundation board members, Foundation staff and an experienced banker, oversees communication and recognition efforts of financial institutions.

From a banker’s perspective, Soucy, a member of the NH Bar Foundation Board, explained that becoming familiar with IOLTA has aided her in serving and recruiting law firms as clients for the bank. She said that the Bank of New Hampshire’s status as an IOLTA Leadership Circle institution is “a door-opener” for her in developing new customer relationships. Attorneys, she said, are valuable customers for a bank, because there are a number of services and potential referral relationships that can be developed. Financial institutions generally aim to provide a range of services to the attorney or law firm, not just the IOLTA account, she said.

There is also a regulatory element. Through IOLTA participation, banks can claim credit for service to low-income people and communities, to comply with regulations under the federal Community Reinvestment Act.

The NH Bar Foundation, working closely with the NH Bar Association, heightens awareness of the select group of Leadership and Partner institutions through articles and discounts on advertising in Bar News, and by participating in NHBA events, including the Practical Skills CLEs.

The NH Bar Foundation also produces an annual impact report that details how the organizations funded by IOLTA serve the state. Last year, organizations receiving IOLTA funds assisted more than 18,000 low-income individuals and family members with civil legal aid or advice. (The final IOLTA Impact Report will be posted soon at www.nhbarfoundation.org, along with reports by each of the IOLTA program grantees.)

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