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About the
Michigan State Bar Foundation

Purpose

The Foundation was established in 1947 in recognition of the legal profession's responsibilities to the public. Since then, the Foundation has made over 1,817 grants totaling more than $180 million in grants to support civil legal aid to the poor and improve the administration of justice in Michigan. The mission of the Foundation is to provide leadership and funding to improve the justice system by:

1) improving access to justice for all, particularly through civil legal aid for the poor and through expansion of the provider system and the resources to improve that system, and

2) improving public understanding about the law, the importance of the rule of law and peaceful resolution of disputes through education, research and publicity.

Grants

Civil Legal Aid for the Poor: The largest share of grant funds supports non-profit organizations which provide civil legal services to low-income families across Michigan. Vulnerable people receive help with critical legal needs such as protecting families from domestic violence, helping an elderly couple preserve their minimal income and assets from an unscrupulous home repair contractor or assisting a mother navigating insurance procedures to obtain health care for a gravely ill child.

Administration of Justice: A smaller but important amount of funding is designed for projects that improve the administration of justice. Specifically, the Foundation prioritizes funding of innovative law-related education and conflict resolution projects. These grants have included efforts such as helping elementary students become "peer mediators" in a program taught together by lawyers and teachers, helping citizens learn about being a juror, and supporting a forum broadcast on public television exploring barriers to a justice system open to all people.

Funding

The Foundation receives funds for its grant programs from a variety of public and private sources. Legal aid grants are funded primarily by the IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts) program and state court filing fees allocated for civil legal aid to the poor. Through IOLTA, the Foundation receives interest on pooled lawyer trust accounts containing client funds that are too small or held for such a short period of time that they cannot generate interest to benefit the individual client. Key partners in the IOLTA program are Michigan's banks, many of which waive all service charges on IOLTA accounts to provide more grants funds. The Foundation also administers bids and contracts under a public law that earmarks court filing fees to support civil legal aid to the poor.

The Foundation also receives generous private donations. Fellows of the Michigan State Bar Foundation have provided more than $1.7 million to support the Foundation's public interest program. More than 2,150 lawyers have been elected to Fellows membership for "outstanding legal ability and devotion to community." The Foundation also receives contributions to its Access to Justice Fund which supports civil legal aid for the poor. Some $14.2 million in contributions and pledges have been raised for operations and endowment needs since the ATJ Campaign began in 1997 as a partnership of the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan State Bar Foundation and our state's civil legal aid programs. For more information on how to make a donation, see www.atjfund.org.

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