About Our Bar

The Iowa State Bar Association is an organization that facilitates professional growth and collegiality among Iowa attorneys. Its mission is to “help Iowa attorneys succeed.” Benefits of membership include: continuing legal education, practice aids, legal research, interaction with the judiciary and legislature and access to publications regarding news and developments impacting the profession.

The ISBA represents approximately 8,000 lawyers from all walks of life and across all practice areas, in Iowa’s 99 counties and beyond. The ISBA’s headquarters is in Des Moines, at the foot of the Iowa Capitol.

State bar associations throughout the country fall into two categories: unified and voluntary. In a unified bar, a lawyer is automatically a member upon receiving a law license. In contrast, there are 16 state bar associations, including Iowa, where membership is optional and voluntary. Iowa is proud to have one of the highest membership rates (close to 90%) of any voluntary bar association in the country. To learn more about joining the ISBA, visit our membership page.

The association’s business is conducted through an Executive Director and staff of 15 employees. It is funded through members’ dues and through other revenue sources, such as receipts from the sales of forms and practice manuals and continuing legal education seminars.

The association is governed by a 43-member Board of Governors elected from each of the state’s 14 judicial election districts. The association’s officers (President, President-Elect and Vice-President) are elected by the membership after being nominated by the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors also elects two representatives to the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates.

ISBA members can belong to 24 substantive law sections and 23 committees. The ISBA also has a Young Lawyers Division, which has its own set of officers, conducts its own programs and events and is open to any ISBA member who is under the age of 35 or who has been in practice less than 10 years.

The Iowa State Bar Association can lay claim to being the oldest voluntary state bar association in the United States, having been formed initially in 1874, four years before even the American Bar Association. In that year, Iowa had been a state for 28 years and had a population of 1.5 million.

In his book, History of American Law, author Lawrence M. Friedman noted that the Association of the Bar of the City of New York was formed in 1870, but Iowa’s formation of its state bar association four years later made it the first state in the nation to do so.

In the book To Go Free: A Treasury of Iowa’s Legal Heritage, authors Richard Lord Acton and Patricia Nassif Acton recount how Iowa lawyers met at the Polk County courthouse to organize The Iowa State Bar Association in May 1874.