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.
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.
Bank of America Settlement Funds
IOLTA programs throughout the country received donations from the Bank of America under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to be used by legal aid organizations for foreclosure prevention legal assistance and community redevelopment legal assistance. The Maine Justice Foundation has received $1.77 million since 2015 under this settlement. These funds are being distributed to Maine’s legal aid organizations through competitive grants.
The Frank M. Coffin Family Law Fellowship is funded by select law firms to pay for two young lawyers each year at Pine Tree Legal Assistance. The 2-year Coffin Fellowship for Family Law is offered to third year law students and judicial clerks. It allows fellowship attorneys to handle family law cases for low-income residents of Cumberland County.
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.