Ohio’s legal aid organizations and access to justice initiatives gain a new funding source this spring. A new law effective April 12 creates a category of unclaimed funds called Attorney Unclaimed Funds. The law authorizes the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation, the largest funder of civil legal aid in Ohio, to use these funds to support civil legal aid and access to justice.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated the already overwhelming need for civil legal services for low-income Ohioans,” said Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. “The new law directing Attorney Unclaimed Funds to the Foundation presents a good opportunity to support civil legal aid and access to justice in Ohio. All attorneys should report these funds as soon as possible.”

In 2020, Ohio’s legal aid organizations helped nearly 125,000 Ohioans resolve their civil legal issues to live safer, healthier, and more financially stable lives. Ohio’s legal aids and Foundation grantee Ohio Legal Help together served more than 58,000 Ohioans with legal issues directly related to the pandemic, such as changes in unemployment benefits and housing issues.

2020 saw a dramatic decrease in the Foundation’s traditional revenue sources. Cratering interest rates on Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) and Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) slashed IOLTA/IOTA revenue and extended quarantines diminished court filing fee income. The new law will help offset these losses.

Under the new law, Attorney Unclaimed Funds include three categories of properties that attorneys or title agents may hold as fiduciaries: funds held in IOLTA, funds held in IOTA, and residual settlement funds. Although it has always been a requirement that attorneys and title agents remit these funds to the Division of Unclaimed Funds, the new law requires a specific code – TR88 – when reporting to ensure the Foundation receives the funds.

The new law does not affect an owner’s ability to make claims on the funds. If a client comes forward to collect Attorney Unclaimed Funds after the attorney has remitted the funds to the state, the client must file a claim with the Division of Unclaimed Funds.

“This change provides a much-needed boost to support access to justice in Ohio,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of the Foundation. “As Ohio emerges from the pandemic, access to civil legal services is critically important to a full recovery, and these funds will help.”

The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation improves fairness and access to justice for all Ohioans. Established in 1994 as the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, the Foundation funds Ohio’s legal aids and other access to justice initiatives through the IOLTA/IOTA program, a civil filing fee surcharge, and donations. Through the Foundation’s work, Ohioans have access to legal help, information, and representation, which ensures fairness for all in the justice system.