Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in Iowa

Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:

  1. Get my Iowa Undergraduate Pre-Law Education
  2. Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
  3. Go to Law School in Iowa
  4. Take the Iowa State Bar Exam and become an Attorney
  5. Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Bar in Iowa

Law Careers in the state of Iowa

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 $117,580 in May 2021, per information provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lawyers working in the Dubuque area made higher average salaries, at $138,920; as did those working in the Sioux City area ($131,430). Read below for information on how you can become a lawyer in Iowa.

Step 1

Get Your Iowa Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

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.

School Accreditation

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:

  • English
  • Communications
  • Political Science
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Human behavior
  • Social interaction

Degree Options

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.

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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in Iowa

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:

Exam content

The LSAT has four scored sections, each consisting of multiple-choice questions with an allowance of 35 minutes

  • Logical Reasoning – This section will test your ability to analyze and evaluate arguments, being able to discern what in the argument causes the strength or weakness.
  • Analytical Reasoning – also called “Logic Games,” this section will test your skills in basic logic, deductive reasoning, and finding structure is organized data.
  • Reading Comprehension – This section requires you to read long, complex passages, identify the details and main ideas, as well as make inferences and extrapolations
  • Experimental Section – this section resembles one of the other sections but is not scored. You will not know which section is the experimental section, so don’t try to guess- just strive to give your best effort on each section.
  • 30-minute Writing Sample – You must write and support one position while criticizing another. This is not graded as part of the LSAT but is sent to the law schools to which you apply, to help them make admission decisions.

Application process

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:

  • Purdue University Global, Cedar Falls
  • University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls
  • Luther College, Decorah
  • Loras College, Dubuque
  • Simpson College-Indianola, Indianola
  • University of Iowa, Iowa City
  • Simpson College, West Des Moines

Receiving Your Score

It takes about three weeks to receive your LSAT scores by email once you take the exam. The lowest score is 120, and the highest, 180. The average LSAT score of applicants to the University of Iowa College of Law in 2017 was 156.

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Step 3

Go to Law School in Iowa

Application process

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:

Course requirements

The Iowa bar exam covers certain subjects that you should study in your time at law school. These include:

  • Business associations (including agencies, partnerships, corporations, and LLCs)
  • Conflict of laws
  • Federal Constitutional law
  • Uniform Commercial Code (Negotiable Instruments, Secured Transactions and Sales)
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Federal Rules of Evidence
  • Family law
  • Federal Civil Procedure
  • Torts
  • Real property
  • Trusts, estates and wills
  • Professional responsibility

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

(For students who choose to focus on a subset of law other than an attorney.)


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.

Degree Programs

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.

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Step 4

Take the Iowa State 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:

Exam content

The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) consists of the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT).

  • MEE: six essay questions over three hours, may cover any of the following subjects:
    • Business associations (including agencies, partnerships, corporations, and LLCs)
    • Conflict of laws
    • Federal Constitutional law
    • Uniform Commercial Code (Negotiable Instruments, Secured Transactions, and Sales)
    • Contracts
    • Criminal law and procedure
    • Federal Rules of Evidence
    • Family law
    • Federal Civil Procedure
    • Torts
    • Real property
    • Trusts, estates, and wills
  • MPT: two performance questions over three hours, involves a file and a library. You must write a memorandum, brief, or perform another lawyer’s task
  • MBE: two three-hour sections of 100 multiple-choice questions each, covering the following:
    • Constitutional law
    • Criminal law
    • Contracts
    • Real property
    • Evidence
    • Torts

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.

Application Process

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:

  • Enclose with your application an exam fee of $550 ($800 if you were previously admitted to another state bar)
  • Enclose a completed fingerprint card (can be requested by emailing [email protected])
  • Enclose the Dean’s Affidavit, signed by the dean of your law school
  • Sign the Enrollment and Release Laptop Option if you plan to use your laptop in the bar exam
  • Sign and notarize all forms where required
  • Mail all documentation, application and fee to Office of Professional Regulation, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50319 no later than April 1 before the July bar exam or November 1 before the February bar exam

Pass Rates

The Iowa Judiciary reports the following pass rates for previous bar exams:

  • July 2018: 86% (first time test takers)
  • Feb 2018: 73% (first time test takers)

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:

  • Are a member of another US jurisdiction’s bar
  • Practiced law for five of the past seven years
  • Still hold a law license
  • Be of good moral character
  • File the correct applications (below) with the Office of Professional Regulation.

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.

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Step 5

Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Iowa Bar

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:

  • Administrative Law
  • Adoption Law
  • Agricultural Law
  • Alternate Dispute Resolution
  • Antitrust & Trade Regulation
  • Appellate Practice
  • Aviation & Aerospace
  • Banking Law
  • Bankruptcy
  • Business Law
  • Civil Rights & Discrimination
  • Collections Law
  • Commercial Law
  • Communications Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Construction Law
  • Contracts
  • Corporate Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Debtor and Creditor
  • Education Law
  • Elder Law
  • Election, Campaign & Political
  • Eminent Domain
  • Employee Benefits
  • Employment Law
  • Energy
  • Entertainment & Sports
  • Environmental Law
  • Family Law
  • Finance
  • Franchise Law
  • Government
  • Government Contracts
  • Health Care
  • Immigration
  • Indians & Native Populations
  • Information Technology Law
  • Insurance
  • Intellectual Property
  • International Law
  • International Trade
  • Investments
  • Juvenile Law
  • Labor Law
  • Legal Malpractice
  • Litigation
  • Media Law
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Military Law
  • Municipal Law
  • Natural Resources
  • Nonprofit Law
  • Occupational Safety & Health
  • Pension & Profit Sharing Law
  • Personal Injury
  • Product Liability
  • Professional Liability
  • Public Utility Law
  • Real Estate
  • Securities
  • Social Security Law
  • Taxation
  • Tax Returns
  • Technology and Science
  • Toxic Torts
  • Trademarks & Copyright Law
  • Transportation
  • Trial Law
  • Veterans Law
  • Wills, Trusts, Estate Planning & Probate Law
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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:

  • District Courts – the trial court of general jurisdiction over all civil, criminal, juvenile, and probate matters in the state. Eight judicial districts exist across Iowa:
    • District 1- Counties of Allamakee, Black Hawk, Buchanan, Chickasaw, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Winneshiek
    • District 2- Counties of Boone, Bremer, Butler, Calhoun, Carroll, Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Humboldt, Marshall, Mitchell, Pocahontas, Sac, Story, Webster, Winnebago, Worth, Wright
    • District 3- Counties of Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford, Dickinson, Emmet, Ida, Lyon, Kossuth, Monona, O’Brien, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Sioux, Woodbury
    • District 4- Counties of Audubon, Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, Shelby
    • District 5- Counties of Adair, Adams, Clarke, Dallas, Decatur, Guthrie, Jasper, Lucas, Madison, Marion, Polk, Ringgold, Taylor, Union, Warren, Wayne
    • District 6- Counties of Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Tama
    • District 7- Counties of Cedar, Clinton, Jackson, Muscatine, Scott
    • District 8- Counties of Appanoose, Davis, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Mahaska, Monroe, Poweshiek, Van Buren, Wapello, Washington
  • Iowa Court of Appeals – handles appeals from litigants for a District Court decision to be heard by a higher court. All appeals go directly to the Iowa Supreme Court, but then the Supreme Court may transfer the case of an appeal to the Iowa Court of Appeals. It is located at the Iowa Judicial Branch Building, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50319
  • Iowa Supreme Court – The “court of last resort” in the state of Iowa, the Supreme Court hears appeals from the lower courts. Its opinions are binding on all other Iowa state courts. The Supreme Court has the power to admit lawyers to the courts of Iowa, to prescribe rules to supervise and discipline lawyers, create court rules of practice and procedure, and supervise the judicial branch, its officers, and employees. It is located at the Iowa Judicial Branch Building, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50319.

Elective membership organizations

Other elective lawyer membership associations exist throughout Iowa, and some of them might be beneficial to your practice. Organizations include:

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Lawyers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.

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