When you pay your Oklahoma Bar Association dues, you are paying annual rent for your license to practice law in Oklahoma, and you are paying for the many valuable services your bar association provides to the legal profession and to the citizens of our state. However, when you pay your OBA dues you are not making a payment of any kind to the Oklahoma Bar Foundation.
The Oklahoma Bar Foundation has made over $10 million in grants, awards and scholarship payments. Funding for these grants, awards and scholarships comes from four sources: 1) trust accounts of Oklahoma lawyers through the Interest On Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, 2) interest on endowments and other invested OBF funds, 3) the Fellows program and other generous contributions; and 4) Cy Pres and residual balance awards.
OBF funding has steadily declined since 2009 along with the economy. The 2012 OBF grant funding program is in crisis because income is down by almost 50 percent from this same time last year. Much of the 2012 revenue decline is attributed to unanticipated decreases in IOLTA receipts. Federal funds target rates have not changed in many months, and this dramatic decrease was not expected by IOLTA programs across the nation. This dire situation is not likely to improve for at least another two or three years, provided that federal rates do increase.
What will the dramatic decline mean for organizations funded by OBF?
The 2012 OBF grant cycle is currently underway with 21 organizations making requests totaling $675,000. Given the loss of income, your OBF must dramatically cut grant award amounts and possibly eliminate some organizations completely from the grant process. This means that many Oklahomans will go without vitally needed legal services. This means that law-related education programs in schools will go unfunded. This means that children and vulnerable adults in Oklahoma will suffer.
What will the dramatic decline mean for you?
Oklahoma lawyers will be expected to take on more pro bono roles because more Oklahomans will be seeking help, and many will not be able to find it. The need is great, but greater is the capacity for Oklahoma lawyers to give their time and money to help the most vulnerable among us.
The next time you pay your OBA dues, think about what your payment does not include.
Judge Erwin is Oklahoma Bar Foundation president and can be reached at Judge_Shon_T_Erwin@okwd.uscourts.gov, and Ms. Norsworthy is Oklahoma Bar Foundation executive director and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.