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Growing Number of Texas Lawyers are Banking on Justice

PHOTO: The number of banks and attorneys in Texas that are getting involved in efforts to fund legal aide assistance for the poor continues to grow. Photo credit: Donkey Hotey
PHOTO: The number of banks and attorneys in Texas that are getting involved in efforts to fund legal aide assistance for the poor continues to grow. Photo credit: Donkey Hotey
March 10, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas - The Prime Partner program, which provides funds for vulnerable Texans seeking justice, is gaining momentum. Prime Partner banks agree to pay higher interest on lawyers' trust accounts to support legal-aid assistance for the poor, explained Betty Balli Torres, executive director, Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

"Prime Partner banks agree to pay 1 percent on IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts) accounts so they can increase funding for civil legal aid in this state. The 'I Bank on Justice' component is really lawyers and law firms that move their accounts into Prime Partner banks in order to support legal aid," Torres explained.

"I Bank on Justice" has the support of the State Bar of Texas and recently hit a record monthly high for new accounts opened. Across the state, 65 banks have thus far joined the Prime Partner program.

One of them is PlainsCapital Bank Westlake, Austin. President Jon Levy said it is part of their greater mission.

"At PlainsCapital, we have some core values," Levy said, "and they include supporting our employees, supporting our customers and supporting our community. We felt like this program was one of the best ways that we could honor those core values."

Those who want to support the program can move their funds to a participating bank or, Torres noted, they can have a conversation with their current bank about joining.

"We would encourage people who support legal aid, who support this program, to visit with their bank and talk to them about becoming a Prime Partner. In fact, many of the Prime Partner banks that participate now are because a customer talked to them, explained the importance of the program to them," Torres said, "and it made a difference."

Torres noted that the need for funding legal aid programs is great, because millions in Texas qualify, but about 80 percent never get that help because there is not enough money.

Information from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation about choosing a Prime Partner bank is available at www.teajf.org/attorneys/choose_a_prime_partner.aspx, and information about the "I Bank on Justice" campaign is at www.teajf.org/i-bank-on-justice-campaign

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX