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Legal services get a boost from higher IOLTA funds

California’s lowest-income residents can count on more access to legal services this year, thanks to a large boost in IOLTA funds.

Judy Garlow, director of the State Bar’s Legal Services Trust Fund Program, reported to the bar’s board of governors that $12 million will be available for low-income legal services grants in the fiscal year starting July 1, compared to $8.35 million in the current year. 

“It’s an amount of money that will really make a difference,” said Garlow. “The legal aid providers have had to turn away many, many people, and this will mean they turn away fewer.” She said grants have decreased by more than 40 percent over the last few years.

The significant boost, Garlow said, is attributed to bigger balances in attorney-client trust accounts as well as to small increases in checking account interest rates. The $12 million includes $10 million in expected IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts) funds and another $2 million in cash-on-hand.

Since its creation in 1982, IOLTA has raised more than $260 million to support nonprofit legal aid providers. Current-year funds have been distributed to almost 100 agencies, including the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, the Senior Law Project in Lakeport, the Santa Clara Asian Law Alliance, university-based law clinics, Mental Health Advocacy Services in Los Angeles, Legal Services of Northern California in Sacramento and the Legal Center for Elderly and Disabled in Sacramento.

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