Overview of our Grants and Programs
The Maine Justice Foundation is a foundation that manages funds and builds endowments from which grants are made to support civil legal aid in the State of Maine. MJF relies on gifts and donations to fund the various groups that are committed to providing low-income Mainers with the kind of legal representation and guidance they deserve. With your commitment to justice and your charitable investment through the Maine Justice Foundation, we can increase funding to those programs that directly help those most in need of legal aid—the most needy residents of Maine.
IOLTA – Committed to civil legal aid for over 30 years
In the mid 1980s, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court created Maine's IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts) program and entrusted the Foundation with its operation. IOLTA is a unique and innovative way to increase access to justice for individuals and families living in poverty and to improve our justice system. Without taxing the public, and at no cost to lawyers or their clients, interest from lawyers’ trust accounts is pooled to provide civil legal aid to the poor and support improvements to the justice system. Elders, immigrants, abused women and children, and many others get help with pressing legal needs.
Over $26 million for civil legal aid
Over the last 30 years, the Maine Justice Foundation has managed over $26 million of IOLTA funds which provide annual operating funds to six core providers of civil legal aid for low-income and vulnerable Mainers: The University of Maine School of Law Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Legal Services for the Elderly, Maine Equal Justice Partners, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, and Volunteer Lawyers Project.
The amount of IOLTA income depends on interest rates paid on the accounts. When rates drop and stay low, as they have from the beginning of 2008 to the present, IOLTA revenue declines. Many IOLTA programs have been forced to reduce grants to legal aid providers, in many cases, by large percentages. Though the effects of the historically low interest rates will be felt for some time, these rates tend to be cyclical. To offset revenue declines, IOLTA programs throughout the country negotiate with financial institutions to reduce service charges and increase interest rates on IOLTA accounts. Working with banks and attorneys helps ensure that IOLTA generates as much funding as possible in order to provide legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn.
Racial Justice Fund
Established in 2020, the Racial Justice Fund is an endowed fund of the Foundation that seeks to educate and advocate for systemic change that will foster racial justice and equity in Maine.
Despite decades of inspiring individual action, a vibrant civil rights movement, and the fall of barriers and cultural norms that kept Black Americans from enjoying all the benefits of citizenship, there remains work undone in our continuing effort to fulfill the American promise for every citizen. It is revealed especially in the seemingly intractable violence, often committed with shocking impunity, against Black Americans as they go about their daily lives.
Twenty-two leading Maine companies and the Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation stepped forward in the summer of 2020 to help us create the Racial Justice Fund. We are grateful for their support.
The fund will support initiatives across Maine that address systemic racism and inequality inside and outside the legal system. An advisory committee of lawyers, academics, and public officials, including Black and indigenous Mainers, will guide the creation of the fund’s specific priorities.
LGBTQ+ Justice Fund
Imagine having your house, your health benefits or even your children taken away. You feel helpless. You do not know what to do or where to turn for help. Now imagine you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Your situation just became more difficult and riskier. If you do not have the income to get legal representation, you are left with no place to turn.
The movement for full equality for LGBTQ+ people has seen incredible progress in a short time. But there are still many threats to the laws that protect LGBTQ+ people. Not only do they face discrimination in employment and housing, but they also find that current laws do not address their specific needs and concerns. We must make sure that every LGBTQ+ person has access to justice. They ought to be able to rely on civil legal aid providers to get them the help they deserve. We need to be sure that they know how to get the services they need.
In recognition of this special need to support the LGBTQ+ community, the LGBTQ+ Fund was founded in 2016 by Bill Robitzek, then President of the Maine Justice Foundation. Bill was a successful trial lawyer for over 35 years before starting his current practice as a mediator, arbitrator, and trial consultant. Bill started this important fund to provide funding for nonprofit organizations that address the civil legal aid needs of low-income and LGBTQ+ Mainers in need. An Advisory Committee will make grant recommendations each year for the distribution of grants. The committee will include fund founders, grants committee members of the Foundation, and people involved in the work supporting LGBTQ+ people.
This important fund was established in 2011 by an anonymous donor who dedicated it to providing support for people in need of legal assistance in Washington and Hancock counties. The donor wanted to keep families safe and healthy, help the elderly with their needs and make sure children have the opportunities they deserve.
Access to Justice Tax Credit
In an effort to encourage lawyers to provide services to underserved areas of our State, the Legislature enacted the Access to Justice Tax Credit Program in 2022. 36 M.R.S. Section 5219-ZZ provides that the Maine Supreme Court, or its designee, shall certify up to five qualified attorneys annually for participation in the Access to Justice Tax Credit program to receive a $6000 tax credit. To be eligible for the $6000 tax credit each year of the program, the recipient attorney must commit to practicing law in an underserved area for at least five years, remain rostered by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services to accept court appointments to represent clients in an underserved area and agrees to perform pro bono legal services in an underserved area. The Court has designated the Maine Justice Foundation to administer the program and established a Standing Committee to assist and advise the Foundation in the process.
The Frank M. Coffin Family Law Fellowship
The Coffin Family Law Fellowship provides legal representation in family law matters to clients who have qualified for pro bono assistance through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Named after Frank M. Coffin, Senior Judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the Project supports attorneys based in the Portland, Maine offices of Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Coffin Fellowship attorneys work for and are based at Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s Portland office for two years and cases are generally limited to Cumberland County. Stipends are competitive with public interest law salaries and a loan repayment assistance program is available for qualifying candidates.
For twenty-three years, the Coffin Family Law Fellowship has played a pivotal role in ensuring access to justice in Maine. Named after Frank M. Coffin, Senior Judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the Fellowship supports attorneys to provide legal representation in family law matters to clients who have qualified for pro bono assistance through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Coffin Fellowship attorneys work for two years at Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s Portland office and cases are generally limited to Cumberland County. Stipends are competitive with public interest law salaries and a loan repayment assistance program is available for qualifying candidates. Interested candidates should submit a letter of interest, resume, an official law school transcript, references, and a brief legal writing sample. The application deadline is October 6, 2023. The Fellowship will begin in September 2024.
Applications for the Coffin Family Law Fellowship should be submitted to:
Michelle G. Draeger, Executive Director, Maine Justice Foundation, 124 State Street, Suite 2, Augusta, ME 04330; or firstname.lastname@example.org; 207-622-3477.
Loan Repayment Assistance Program
The Maine Justice Foundation supports a loan program to assist attorneys interested in public service with repayment of their law school debts. Attorneys must be employed by participating legal service providers. Interested attorneys should check with their employers to confirm participation in the program before applying.
Justice Action Group
The Foundation provides funding to, serves on the Executive Committee of, and functions as the fiscal agent for the Justice Action Group. This is a judge-led coalition of leaders of Maine’s legal community, including state and federal judges, legislative leaders, nonprofit civil legal aid providers, University of Maine’s School of Law, Maine Bar Foundation, the Maine Bar Association, the Maine Trial Lawyers Association, practicing attorneys and others who are passionate about helping all Maine people have access to civil justice.
Maine Civil Legal Services Fund Commission
The Foundation provides in-kind staff support to the Maine Civil Legal Services Fund Commission for the biennial application process, the annual reporting process by grantees, and the annual submittal of these reports to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary.