Border Crossing

An article by Shannon Willis Scruggs, Executive Director

One of the many pleasures of serving as president of the National Association of IOLTA Programs is the opportunity to travel beyond our state’s borders. In September, that journey took me far beyond South Carolina and actually out of the United States to beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. The occasion was to participate in the Association of Canadian Law Foundations (ACLF) meeting.

The ACLF is comprised of 14 programs across the vast Canadian landscape that serve as grant making entities that, in general, support legal aid, education and research as well as other law related areas. The majority of these provincial programs operate the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account Programs. As one might imagine, there are as many differences as there are similarities between the Canadian programs and those that operate in the *United States.

Among the Canadian provinces, all but one administers the IOLTA program. The size of each province’s program ranges from a one person operation to a full complement of staff including program managers, data entry personnel, financial administrators and executive management. One major difference between the members of the ACLF and many IOLTA programs/bar foundations in the United States is that the Canadian programs are not registered charitable organizations. As such, they do not actively engage in fundraising to support their programs and grantees.

Many conversations around the ACLF table have similar themes to those held at national meetings of the IOLTA programs. At this most recent meeting, time was spent discussing trends in grant making including the rise of access to justice initiatives. Provincial representatives reviewed ongoing joint initiatives and discussed the possibility of future opportunities. Guest speaker Patrick Johnston, with Borealis Advisors, joined the group for two presentations on governance issues and best practices.

Day two of the agenda included a roundtable conversation where each program was able to discuss a topic of choice with the group. Topics included how various provinces were addressing decreased revenue from the IOLTA.

One of the smaller programs shared its work on a strategic planning process and outlined the priorities that were developed by the board including meeting the legal needs of seniors, family law, innovative approaches to legal aid and the use of technology. Participants discussed communications challenges – due in part to many vast areas of land between communities of people – and even one area where the opportunity to access high-speed internet was not yet a reality.

One interesting conversation surrounded a community law advocate program. The network of advocates, developed by one of the ACLF programs, is making great strides in delivering access to justice. Advocates (who are not lawyers) are able to help parties in advance of meeting with pro bono lawyers and, in general, help citizens with legal information and advice. They work under the supervision of a lawyer.

The advocates typically are housed in community agencies so they are deeply connected to those they are serving. The cost effectiveness of this method of service is outstanding – it is estimated that each case costs the funder roughly $93. And, in this past year, more than 80,000 Canadians were given assistance by a community law advocate in one province alone!

Day three of the conference included the business meeting of the ACLF and conversations about stakeholder relations and leadership. Guest presenter Faye Wightman gave an overview of philanthropy in Canada which looked somewhat similar to the big picture on philanthropy in the United States. The event wrapped up with a meaningful conversation about grant making in difficult times, the use of reserves, transition funds and prioritizing grants.

No trip to Vancouver would be complete without enjoying delicious seafood and sights that the city has to offer. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this meaningful conference. Now that I am back state side, I continue to remain inspired by my Canadian colleagues and am energized to continue the good work of the South Carolina Bar Foundation.


*The operation of IOLTA programs and/or Bar Foundations from one state to the next can vary immensely. Some programs have a sole focus to administer the IOLTA program. Those activities include everything from overseeing the bank operations that generate revenue to supporting a grant making process that fulfills the mission of the organization. Other programs administer IOLTA, but also serve as the charitable arm of their respective bars and work on engaging philanthropy within the profession. And still other programs serve as stand-alone bar foundations that only focus on generating support from the legal community and beyond to support a variety of law related organizations. These programs do not handle the IOLTA operations. The South Carolina Bar Foundation wears two hats – serving as the IOLTA administrator as well as the charitable arm of the profession.


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