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One does not usually think of Iowa as being a hotbed of crime. However, according to the Iowa Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Report, the numbers beg to differ. In 2016, the UCR reports that there were 297.44 violent crimes per 100,000 Iowa residents. Murder accounted for 2.38 per 100,000, while rape accounted for 41.4 per 100,000. Robberies were at a rate of 37.96 per 100,000 residents, and aggravated assault was 215.70 per 100,000. Property crimes accounted for 2123 per 100,000 residents. Burglaries were 473.73 per 100,000 residents.
The above numbers indicate that there is a need for lawyers in Iowa to help the state’s justice system flow smoothly. In addition to working as criminal or trial attorneys, lawyers in Iowa can specialize in a variety of areas, including civil law and family law. The average Iowa lawyer earned a yearly salary of $94,550 in May 2017, per information provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lawyers working in the Davenport-Moline-Rock Island IA/IL metropolitan area made higher average salaries, at $117,470; as did those working in the Des Moines-West Des Moines area ($111,090). Read below for information on how you can become a lawyer in Iowa.
The Iowa Board of Law Examiners has not ruled that you must complete a specific undergraduate pre-law education. However, does not mandate pre-legal education for admission to the bar. However, Iowa Court Rules Chapter 31 states that in order to take Iowa’s bar exam, you must have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school fully accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA requires that, before entering law school, you have at least a bachelor’s degree in any subject.
The ABA states that you must receive your bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. If a national or regional accreditation agency is listed in this U.S. Department of Education database, most ABA-approved law schools will consider your undergraduate education to be valid.
Requirements and Standards
The ABA does not require certain courses or majors for undergraduate education. Some undergraduate institutions carry a “pre-law” major. If your college or university does not, there are still some courses you should take to prepare yourself for the rigors of law school. These include:
If your school does not offer a “pre-law” major, choosing a major from any of the above areas is usually a good idea. This will help to get you ready to pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and to succeed in law school. As long as you have a bachelor’s degree and a passing LSAT score, most ABA-approved law schools will have no trouble admitting you.
To get into an ABA-accredited law school, you must first pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test. This six hour long standardized test is given four times annually at international examination locations.
How to prepare
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) provides free practice tests, sample questions, and answer explanations at the LSAT website. If you wish to take a paid prep course, options in Iowa include:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Iowa:
The LSAT has four scored sections, each consisting of multiple-choice questions with an allowance of 35 minutes
Register online with the LSAC and create an account to take the LSAT. You may pay the $190 exam fee online via credit card. These centers in Iowa administer the LSAT:
Receiving Your Score
It takes about three weeks to receive your LSAT scores by email once you take the exam. The lowest score is a 120, and the highest, 180. The average LSAT score of applicants to the University of Iowa College of Law in 2017 was 156.
The next step in becoming an Iowa lawyer is to apply to an ABA-accredited law school. Each law school has differing requirements when it comes to filing your application.
Credential Assembly Service
You must use the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) when you apply for admission in an ABA-accredited law school. This service helps you to collect transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions you have attended up to this point, as well as gather recommendation letters and contact those who have agreed to perform online evaluations of your character and work. The CAS will help you to apply electronically to the ABA-accredited law schools you choose. The LSAC charges a fee of $195 for this service.
The Iowa Board of Law Examiners s requires that you graduate from an ABA-accredited law school prior to taking the Iowa bar exam. There are over 200 ABA-approved law schools in the United States, listed in the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools guide.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Iowa
Two law schools in Iowa hold ABA accreditation:
The Iowa bar exam covers certain subjects that you should study in your time at law school. These include:
Under the rules of the ABA, you must be in law school for at least 24 months but it may not take you more than 84 months to complete the requirements for your J.D. degree. This usually entails an average of 83 semester hours.
Online Law Degrees
You will likely be asked to complete at least one clinical internship during your time at law school. This may consist of an in-house clinic (working on cases supervised by law school faculty), or an externship at a law firm or government agency (supervised in the field by work supervisors and by law school faculty). The internship you participate in will help you to develop your lawyering skills and provide valuable contacts for networking after graduation.
The Iowa Board of Law Examiners says that you must have Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school holding full accreditation from the ABA.
Law School Registration
The Iowa Supreme Court requires that you register by November 1 of your first year of law school if you plan to eventually take the Iowa bar exam. You must pay a fee of $50 at registration. If you do not register at this time, but have registered by December 1 before the July bar exam or by July 1 before the February bar exam, you must pay a registration fee of $150. If you wait until April 1 before the July bar exam or November 1 before the February bar exam to register, the fee increases to $250. Registering with the bar allows the bar to begin a character and fitness investigation of you, which you must pass in addition to passing the bar exam for admittance to the Iowa bar.
Graduates of Foreign Law Schools
As a rule, the Iowa Board of Law Examiners does not permit graduates of foreign law schools to take the Iowa bar exam. In the past, however, Iowa’s Supreme Court has allowed foreign law school graduates to present their academic records to an Iowa ABA-accredited law schools for evaluation. The evaluating law school will then prepare a proposed course of study, which must then be approved by the Court. Completing this recommended course of study will make the foreign applicant eligible to take the Iowa bar exam.
You have received your J.D. degree and may now apply to take the Iowa bar exam. While you are eligible to take the bar exam if you have not yet received your J.D. degree, you must receive your degree within 45 days of the first day of the bar exam.
Iowa administers the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). Preparation materials for the Iowa Bar Exam may be found at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. Review the study aids provided for the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). Other options for bar exam preparation in Iowa include:
The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) consists of the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT).
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
In addition to passing the Iowa bar exam, you must also pass the MPRE no later than April 1 before the July bar exam or November 1 before the February bar exam. You must receive a scaled score of at least 80. Information on registering for and studying for the MPRE can be found here.
Complete the Application for Iowa Bar Examination. You must complete it in its entirety, including the Non-Law Enforcement Record Check Request with your signature on the waiver. Additionally:
The Iowa Judiciary reports the following pass rates for previous bar exams:
Admission on Motion
You may be eligible for Iowa bar admission without passing Iowa’s bar exam if you are already a licensed lawyer in another state. You must meet these requirements:
Applicants who have failed the Iowa bar exam in the past five years are not eligible for admission on motion. If you have failed five or more Iowa bar exams, you also are not eligible for admission on motion to the Iowa bar.
If you meet the qualifications for admission on motion, submit the Application for Admission Without Examination. Pay the fee of $900. Send all requested information to Office of Professional Regulation, Judicial Branch Building, Second Floor, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50319.
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
When you receive your bar exam scores by mail (about six weeks post-exam), you will be instructed of the time and place of your formal bar admission ceremony.
You have passed the Iowa bar exam and are a full-fledged member of the Iowa State Bar Association! You might want to check out the ISBA’s Young Lawyers Division, which can help you in setting up your own practice, making contacts for jobs, deciphering continuing legal education (CLE) rules, and more. The ISBA also has a section of its website devoted to Practice Tools that can help you in many aspects of your legal practice.
Once you have passed the Iowa bar exam and are a member of the ISBA, you must complete a basic skills course on Iowa law within one year of the last day of the bar exam you passed. It must consist of eight hours of instruction time and at least eight topic areas. One hour must be in legal ethics.
As a new Iowa lawyer, you may opt to open your own practice or join an existing one. Some of the more famous law firm names across Iowa include Sullivan & Ward, PC in West Des Moines, specializing in many practice areas; divorce lawyers Hudson, Mallaney, Shindler & Anderson, PC in West Des Moines; multi-practice lawyers Bradley & Riley, PC in Cedar Rapids; and medical malpractice law firm Lane & Waterman LLP in Iowa City.
Perhaps you would rather work as legal counsel for an Iowa corporation. Iowa is home to three Fortune 500 companies: Principal Financial in Des Moines, Casey’s General Stores Corporate Headquarters in Ankeny, and Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids. Other Iowa-based companies include outsourcing company Thomas R. Cardella & Associates in Cedar Rapids; online retailer Clickstop, Inc. in Urbana; Hybrid Transit Systems, Inc. in Cedar Rapids; and marketing agency Mindstream Media in Cedar Falls.
Legal specialty certification
Iowa Court Rule 32: 7.4 says that an Iowa lawyer may claim certification as a specialist in an area of law if the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board approves the certification organization. You must devote 100 hours or 10 percent of your practice time to that field. Certification in the following fields of practice is recognized in Iowa:
For more information on approved certification organizations for the above-mentioned fields of practice, contact the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board.
Requirements for maintaining license
To maintain your law license in Iowa, you must complete 15 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) annually. This includes two hours of ethics courses every two years. If you are a new lawyer, taking the required eight-hour basic skills course counts towards your year’s CLE requirement of 15 hours. Contact the ISBA CLE Department for more information.
Court Systems in Iowa
The Iowa Court System consists of the following structure:
Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Winneshiek
Madison, Marion, Polk, Ringgold, Taylor, Union, Warren, Wayne
Elective membership organizations
Other elective lawyer membership associations exist throughout Iowa, and some of them might be beneficial to your practice. Organizations include:
Lawyer Career Specialties
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