The Florida Bar Board of Governors brought The Florida Bar Foundation into existence in 1956 as a nonprofit corporation chartered to foster law-related public interest programs on behalf of Florida’s legal profession.
The Florida Bar Foundation’s mission to provide greater access to justice is accomplished through funding of programs that expand and improve representation and advocacy for the poor in civil legal matters. The Foundation offers both leadership and funding for legal aid throughout Florida to accomplish this mission, with generous support from both Florida lawyers and the general public.
In 1981, financial support for the Foundation increased significantly when the Florida Supreme Court adopted the nation’s first Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) program. Under IOTA, client trust deposits deemed by the attorney or law firm to be too small an amount, or expected to be held for too short a time to make investment for an individual client economically practical, are pooled by the attorney or law firm into an interest- or dividend-bearing financial institution account benefiting IOTA. The Florida Supreme Court requires all nominal or short-term client trust funds to be deposited into IOTA accounts. However, attorneys or law firms may invest trust funds for the benefit of individual clients whenever practical and are precluded from depositing such funds for IOTA’s benefit. As the appointed trustees of IOTA, The Florida Bar Foundation has accepted the responsibility to steward IOTA monies into Florida Supreme Court-approved purposes. The Foundation board allocates IOTA funds annually to provide legal assistance to the poor, programs to improve the administration of justice, and law student assistance programs designed to foster public interest careers and pro bono work.
A national model
The success of the IOTA program is extraordinary. Over the past 27 years, the Florida IOTA program has distributed more than $293 million to help hundreds of thousands of poor people receive critically needed free civil legal assistance throughout Florida. Florida’s nationally acclaimed IOTA program has served as a model and a catalyst for programs subsequently established in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Civil legal services for the poor remain the chief beneficiary of IOTA funds.