Monday, June 11, 2012

Lawyer registration fees going up to aid services for poor

In response to declining interest rates that have taken a big chunk out of funding for legal services for the poor, the Illinois Supreme Court has increased the amount attorneys must pay for registration.

The new rules also provide that retired judges who wish to remain active on the state roll of attorneys are no longer exempt from attorney registration fees.

The annual registration fee will increase from $289 to $342 - a jump of 18.3 percent - with the entire $53 increase going to the Lawyers Trust Fund that contributes to agencies that provide legal services to the poor in non-criminal cases. The increase is effective immediately.

The LTF gets its revenues from two sources - a portion of licensing fees and the interest on pooled funds that attorneys are required to hold for clients while their legal matters are pending.

The amount remitted to the LTF will increase from $42 to $95 under the new rules.

The increase is designed to offset the dramatic drop in interest rates banks have been paying on the pooled trust funds. That interest rate averaged about one-half of one percent in 2011 and has since declined even further.

"The Lawyers Trust Fund was a major part of our funding, and the interest money we receive has been steadily declining," said Michael Fiello, managing attorney for the Carbondale office of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance. "Without more funding, that income stream was going to run dry."

Fiello said it wasn’t just funding from the Lawyers Trust Fund that has been lagging.

"Other sources of income have been declining as well," he said. "This will help a lot."

In 2008, the LTF received more than $17 million in interest income. It is estimated it will get only about $2.7 million from those accounts in 2012.

The increase will add an estimated $3.5 million to LTF revenues, according to Ruth Ann Schmitt, executive director of LTF.

LTF grants have made up 23 percent of the budget of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, one of two major downstate legal aid programs. Land of Lincoln has five regional offices, including one in Springfield that serves Sangamon and nine area counties.

There are more than 66,000 active attorneys in Illinois. First-year attorneys pay no registration fees and second- and third-year lawyers pay a reduced fee that doesn’t include the LTF contribution.

By Chris Dettro, The State Journal-Register, 788-1510

Source: The State Journal-Register

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