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For two decades, the D.C. Bar Foundation has quietly funneled money to pro bono legal shops that represent Washington’s poorest residents. The foundation last year dished out $550,000 to 16 groups — among them clinics like the Legal Aid Society of D.C., Ayuda Inc., which represents members of the Latino community, and the D.C. Prisoners Legal Services Project, which takes on inmates’ causes. Since 1985, most of the money has come from an Interest on Lawyers Trust Account program, which pools the interest lawyers earn when they hold client funds in escrow. IOLTA revenue allowed the foundation, with little fanfare, to get the money it needed to help neighborhood clinics stay afloat.

Today the effort is suffering: The IOLTA fund has decreased because of depressed interest rates. And the very concept of using IOLTA funds in this way is under attack nationwide as an unconstitutional “taking” of client funds.

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