FirstBank and the Access to Justice Fund Foundation announced the launching of the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (“IOLTA”,) or “Cuenta de Intereses en Fideicomiso de Abogados y Abogadas (CIFAA),” aimed at ensuring the availability and efficacy of legal services offered by nonprofit organizations to people of limited resources.
The Access to Justice Fund was created under Law 165 of 2013 to help people of limited resources in Puerto Rico by means of an independent, recurring source of funds.
The law places Puerto Rico at par with the 50 United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, and all the provinces of Canada that have had IOLTA programs for more than 30 years.
“The main goal of the legal system is justice, and in light of the constant cutting of federal and state funds for legal representation for people with limited resources, the Access to Justice Fund Foundation was created to support the organizations offering those services,” said José Enrique Colón, president of the Access to Justice Fund Foundation.
The CIFAA deposit account is designed for lawyers and law firms with private practices under the laws of Puerto Rico, for the purpose of generating interest from the money they receive from clients for case expenses, commercial transactions, litigation or other costs.
“We would like to thank FirstBank for their interest in the welfare of our communities and their collaboration in launching these accounts, which generate interest for the Fund and ease the burden for lawyers and firms,” he said.
These interest funds do not belong to the attorneys. They will be used by nonprofit organizations to offer free legal representation to people of limited financial resources, whose eligibility for Fund resources will be determined by the Administrative Board.
A study conducted throughout the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico in 2009 revealed that the existing organizations who provide legal assistance in civil actions only address 20 percent of the needs of people, families, and communities of limited resources (“The Justice Gap in America.”)
In Puerto Rico, where fewer resources are available for the poor, that 80 percent of unsatisfied needs is equal or greater.
“At FirstBank, we joined the Access to Justice Fund Foundation in order to become the first bank to launch the CIFAA account, as part of our commitment to offer great value products and services to our customers and the communities we serve,” said Michelle Santiago, product manager at FirstBank..
“With this collaboration, we seek to close the gap in access to justice by generating interest on the funds deposited by lawyers in CIFFA accounts and directing them to the Fund, so that people of limited resources can have access to legal assistance in civil cases,” she said.