Updated 3/15 at 10:57 a.m.
In a move that would bring the D.C. Bar in line with other states with mandatory bars, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals recently approved a new rule giving the D.C. Bar Foundation authority to periodically check that local attorneys are participating in the Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts, or IOLTA, program.
The mandatory program, which collects interest earned on lawyers' trust accounts, helps fund annual grants to local civil legal services organizations through the D.C. Bar Foundation. Katia Garrett, the foundation's executive director, said that having a way to verify participation is considered a best practice in managing IOLTA programs.
"It's really to provide an added level of certainty," she said. Garrett added that by checking, the foundation could make sure that the accounts reported by lawyers matched bank records.
The IOLTA program has suffered in recent years because of low interest rates. Garrett said it's possible that new verification procedures would prompt attorneys not currently participating to do so, but that it was unlikely to make a dent in the program's declining revenues.
Washington and 45 other jurisdictions have mandatory IOLTA programs. Of those, Garrett said that at least 40 have some form of reporting requirement for IOLTA programs. "What all the stakeholders want is to have a system that makes it easy for lawyers to carry out their obligations," she said.
The foundation will have to develop a plan for how it intends to verify participation and submit it for approval by the D.C. Bar Board of Governors and the D.C. Court of Appeals. Once it starts checking, the foundation will also have to submit an annual report on its activities to the board of governors and the appeals court.
A previous version of this story misstated information on jurisdictions with mandatory IOLTA programs. Forty-six jurisdictions have mandatory IOLTA programs, not mandatory bars.