IOLTA, or Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts, is a system that generates funds that go to addressing gaps in access to justice and serving civil legal aid programs. IOLTA operates nationwide; there are IOLTA programs in every state, Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands. Through IOLTA, attorneys holding client funds are required to hold those funds in a special interest-bearing account. The interest generated from those accounts are then distributed to access to justice and civil legal aid programs. In Montana, IOLTA revenues are remitted to the Montana Justice Foundation, and we distribute those funds through our programs.
The establishment of IOLTA in the United States followed changes to the federal banking laws passed by Congress in 1980, which allowed some checking accounts to bear interest. The Montana IOLTA program was authorized by the Supreme Court of Montana in April of 1986. Montana had only established a voluntary IOLTA program until 1992 when the Montana Supreme Court made it mandatory that attorneys holding client funds do so through IOLTA.
Since 1986, the Montana Justice Foundation has distributed over $5 million to over forty legal aid organizations and access to justice initiatives throughout the state of Montana. These organizations focus on clients’ most basic human needs: preserving housing, protecting subsistence income, obtaining access to health care, providing food and clothing for families and maintaining safety, independence, and dignity.