April 19, 2017
A recent change to the rule governing how lawyers deal with unidentified funds in their pooled client trust accounts has generated over $1,000,000 for legal aid in Illinois.
In March 2015, the Supreme Court of Illinois amended Rule 1.15 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct to require Illinois lawyers to remit unidentified funds in these client trust accounts to the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois after a 12-month due diligence process to determine who owns the funds. Since the new rule went into effect on July 1, 2015, the Lawyers Trust Fund (LTF) has received $1,007,829.21.
“For the 1.8 million Illinoisans living in poverty, legal aid is the only realistic option when confronted with a serious legal problem,” said LTF executive director Mark Marquardt. “Unfortunately, legal aid groups are facing serious financial headwinds in terms of both state and federal funding, which make this new source of revenue even more critical.”
The amended rule creates a process for lawyers to clear unidentified funds from client trust accounts that are part of the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) program. An IOLTA account is a pooled interest-bearing trust account established to hold funds from multiple clients that are nominal in amount and/or held for a short period of time. Interest on these accounts is paid to the LTF which uses IOLTA revenue to support not-for-profit legal aid programs that assist low-income Illinois residents.
The amended rule defines unidentified funds as “amounts accumulated in an IOLTA account that cannot be documented as belonging to a client, a third person, or the lawyer or law firm.”
“The Supreme Court is extremely pleased with how well the new mechanism is working,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier said. “Until the court implemented the new system, handling unidentified funds was a cumbersome and difficult problem for lawyers. The new rules greatly simplify the process. At the same time, they have opened up an important new source of funding for legal aid programs just as demand for such services is growing, but traditional funding is being threatened. It looks to be a win-win for everyone concerned.”
Unidentified funds are distinct from unclaimed funds, which are funds that belong to a known client or third party who cannot be located or does not respond to communications from the lawyer. Only unidentified funds should be sent to LTF under the new rule. Lawyers should continue to remit unclaimed funds to the state treasurer pursuant to the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act.
After determining that the funds are unidentified, lawyers complete a simple, one-page form and send it, along with a check, to LTF. The form, along with a copy of the rule, written instructions, and an informational video, are available on the LTF website at www.ltf.org/lawyers/unidentified-funds/.
“Thanks to the foresight of the Supreme Court of Illinois, LTF is better positioned to support the legal aid system as it exists today, and to invest in new technologies and service strategies to help even more people in the future,” said Marquardt.
The Lawyers Trust Fund is a charitable foundation established by the Illinois State and Chicago Bar Associations in 1983. The Supreme Court of Illinois designated the Lawyers Trust Fund as the administrator of the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account program and as the recipient of a $95 legal aid fee paid by Illinois attorneys as part of the annual registration process. The Lawyers Trust Fund is the largest single Illinois-based source of funding for civil legal services, providing approximately one out of every six dollars spent on legal aid in the state. For more information on the Lawyers Trust Fund, please visit www.ltf.org.