PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION RESOLUTION REGARDING PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO PENNSYLVANIA RULE OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT 1.15
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association is committed to the fundamental principle of access to justice for all Pennsylvanians; and
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association has a long and distinguished record of initiating and supporting efforts to expand access to justice for all those in the Commonwealth who cannot afford to retain an attorney, including but not limited to creating a Civil Gideon and Access to Justice Task Force, a blue-ribbon panel of judges, lawyers and others seeking to establish a right to counsel for low-income persons in adversarial legal proceedings in areas where basic human needs are at stake; and
WHEREAS, many individuals in Pennsylvania with low incomes are unable to afford an attorney to assist them with legal issues that affect their basic human needs, and legal needs studies conducted in Pennsylvania and nationally have shown that, at best, only twenty percent of low-income individuals who need help with a legal problem are able to obtain legal assistance from an attorney; and
WHEREAS, funding for legal aid in Pennsylvania has decreased significantly due to federal and state budget cuts and reductions in other sources of funding, which has resulted in reductions in staff positions, offices and services, and has made it increasingly difficult for these organizations to meet the legal needs of those who seek assistance; and
WHEREAS, The Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, a not-for-profit organization that operates under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, was created to support the provision of civil legal services to the Commonwealth’s poor and disadvantaged; and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 requires attorneys to deposit nominal and short-term fiduciary funds in interest-bearing IOLTA accounts, with interest earned on IOLTA accounts transferred to the Pennsylvania IOLTA Board for the purpose of making grants, upon approval of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, to non-profit organizations, law school clinical programs, and administration of justice projects that provide civil legal services free of charge to the poor and disadvantaged; and
WHEREAS, The Pennsylvania IOLTA Board has noticed an increase in attorneys seeking guidance on the ethical distribution of funds in an IOLTA trust account when the owner of the funds cannot be identified or located, and currently Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 does not specifically address the disposition of such funds; and
WHEREAS, The Pennsylvania IOLTA Board proposes amending Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 to include a new provision that, should reasonable efforts to identify or locate the owner of funds in a Pennsylvania IOLTA account prove unsuccessful, would transfer unclaimed or unidentified funds to the Pennsylvania IOLTA Board subject to stated protections in the event that the owner is subsequently identified or located, and that these unclaimed or unidentified funds would be used to advance the important mission of the Pennsylvania IOLTA Board which helps to increase access to justice and eases the burden on judicial resources necessary to assist pro se litigants; and
WHEREAS, The Pennsylvania IOLTA Board has given notice and asked for comment by April 12, 2017 on proposed amendments to Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 regarding the disposition of unclaimed or unidentified funds in Pennsylvania IOLTA trust accounts, which notice with proposed changes is attached as Exhibit "A,".
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association endorses the amendments to Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 as proposed by The Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers Trust Account Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on February 25, 2017.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Chancellor and/or the Chancellor's designee(s) shall communicate this position to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania IOLTA Board, the legal profession and the public and take such other action as may be necessary to effectuate this Resolution.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: March 30, 2017