May 28, 2018
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Anonymous $2 million gift to help provide legal services Down East

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Bar Foundation has announced the receipt of a $2 million gift from an anonymous donor.

The endowment, the first of its kind for the foundation, is dedicated to providing support for people in need of legal assistance in Washington and Hancock counties, according to a press release issued Thursday.

“The donor was impressed with the way the Maine Bar Foundation strategically funds access to legal assistance in Maine,” Sally Mills, the Ellsworth attorney representing the donor, said. “It is clear to this donor that legal aid means more than just attorneys in the courtroom. It means keeping families safe and healthy, helping our elderly with their needs, and making sure our children have the opportunities they deserve.”

The foundation will set up an endowment with the gift and use the interest to pay for legal services, Calien Lewis, executive director of the foundation, said Thursday.

“We are, obviously, thrilled to receive this donation,” she said. “With more people than ever in need of help combined with a catastrophic drop in our major source of funding — the interest on lawyer trust accounts — this gift couldn’t come at a better time.”

The foundation administers the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts Program, or IOLTA, which takes the interest earned on funds lawyers hold for clients while waiting for transactions such as home sales to be settled.

Maine lawyers are required to pool those accounts for the IOLTA program, which funds most of the foundation’s work. The drop in interest rates over the past three years and the sluggish economy have reduced dramatically the amount of money earned from IOLTA, according to previously published reports.

Lewis said Thursday that the donor is not a member of Maine’s legal community.

“This gift did not come from a lawyer or a judge,” she said. “That makes this particularly rewarding because it became clear [to the donor] that having legal assistance helps people meet their everyday needs from housing to food to health care to work. I think that is what inspired the gift.”

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