MBF awards $5M in IOLTA grants for 2009—10

Issue Sept/Oct 2009

Massachusetts Bar Foundation trustees recently awarded $5 million in grant funding to nonprofits across the state that provide civil legal assistance to the most vulnerable citizens.

The 2009-10 grants are funded by the Interest on Lawyer's Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Program and are particularly important today as the economic recession has created the "perfect storm" for many of these organizations, as more people are accessing their services, while funding from various sources, including government as well as private foundations, has been cut.

As the annual grant program's deadline loomed in March, the MBF faced a devastating shortfall of IOLTA funds. Available IOLTA revenue was down more than 66 percent from last year. More than 150 MBF Fellows assisted in reviewing grant applications, including meeting in-person with the service providers. Across the state, they heard the same message - funds were desperately needed to enable the poorest Massachusetts citizens to have equal access to the state's justice system.

While there is always the possibility of fluctuation in IOLTA revenue from year to year, this year's dramatic drop was certainly unprecedented. Thanks to the stewardship of the MBF trustees past and present, the MBF was fortunate to be able to utilize reserve funds to lessen the impact of the funding shortage on the grantees. Thus, the total award amount for this year is the second highest payout ever for the foundation, despite the precipitous decline in IOLTA revenue. A total of $6.3 million in grants was awarded in 2008-09.

MBF President Laurence M. Johnson, a partner at Davis, Malm & D'Agostine in Boston, explains that trustees recognized "the dire impact the recession has had on so many individuals and families across the state. We knew it was absolutely essential that we do whatever we could to help keep these vital services available to those in need."

This year's MBF IOLTA grant awards will support 158 programs conducted by 107 nonprofit organizations throughout Massachusetts. The grants support projects that offer civil legal services to people who cannot otherwise afford them, to improve the administration of justice in the commonwealth.

Grants providing direct legal services include support to domestic violence programs, special education advocacy, consumer debt counseling and homelessness prevention projects. Grants to improve the administration of justice include such efforts as court-linked mediation and lawyer-of-the-day programs. Award amounts range from $1,500 to $98,000, and will run for one year, from Sept. 1, 2009, to Aug. 31, 2010.

Funds for these grants are provided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's IOLTA Program. The MBF is one of three charitable entities in Massachusetts that distributes IOLTA funds.

Visit to view a complete listing of the 2009-10 IOLTA grant recipients.