Maine Justice Foundation welcomes growing bank support for legal aid

22 April 2019 , Posted in: Our Work

From Mainebiz, 4/18/19, by Renee Cordes:

The Maine Justice Foundation said Sanford-based SIS Bank has signed on as a prime partner in a program to fund six providers of legal aid in the state.

Since Maine’s Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts program was set up in the mid-1980s, it has generated more than $27 million.

Under the program, which is operated in every state, interest from the trust accounts is pooled to provide civil legal aid to the poor and improvements to the justice system. The funds allow nonprofit legal aid providers to help low-income individuals and families with civil legal matters such as landlord/tenant issues, child custody disputes and advocacy for those with disabilities.

In Maine, SIS Bank is already one of 41 financial institutions holding accounts for lawyers participating in the program. As a new prime partner, it has joined six others in committing to paying the highest interest rate, of 2%, on trust accounts held at their branches.

“We were really grateful that SIS decided to become a prime partner,” Diana Scully, executive director of the Maine Justice Foundation, told Mainebiz. “Now that interest rates have started moving up again, we’ve been reaching back out to the financial institutions and are trying to be more active in encouraging them to increase their rates.”

She said that banks participating in the program pay rates of anywhere between 0.10% to 2%, as listed on the Maine Justice Foundation’s website.

Message to financial institutions

The foundation’s main message to the banking community about becoming a prime partner?

“It’s a philanthropic act to support low-income people who can’t get lawyers,” said Scully. “We also want them to know that we’re happy to let their customers know they’re going above and beyond.”

Christopher McDonnell, vice president of SIS Bank, said in a news release that the institution “looks forward to joining the foundation and other prime partners in contributing to the important cause of justice for all members of our communities.”

The Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts Program is a critical source of funding for Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project, Legal Services for the Elderly, the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law, Maine Equal Justice and the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court created Maine’s program in the mid-1980s and entrusted the Maine Justice Foundation with its operation.

The Maine Justice Foundation encourages Maine lawyers to seriously consider banking at financial institutions that participate at prime partner level paying 2% interest in Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts funds.

Besides SIS Bank, other prime partners are: Auburn Savings Bank, First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Bath, Kennebec Savings Bank, Maine Savings Federal Credit Union, Rockland Savings Bank and The County Federal Credit Union.