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A Bar Association is a professional association for attorneys and, in some cases, law students and other professionals. Bar Associations are established to promote the practice of law as a profession, primarily through continuing education opportunities and the development and enforcement of professional standards for its members. Bar Associations also promote public service by encouraging members to offer pro bono legal services. Some Bar Associations have a role in granting permission to practice law. Bar Associations can be grouped into two categories: voluntary and mandatory.
Mandatory Bar Associations, also known as Unified or Integrated Bar Associations, are Bar Associations that have been delegated the authority to control admission to the bar by state statute or the state court system. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have Mandatory Bar Associations. Membership in the Mandatory Bar Association is required in order to practice law in these states. In addition to establishing rules for admission and conduct, Mandatory Bar Associations administer the bar exam for their states.
Voluntary Bar Associations promote the legal profession but do not regulate admission to the bar in their states, and membership is not required in order to practice law. In these states, a separate entity or authority regulates admission to the bar. The activities of Voluntary Bar Associations focus on furthering members' professional development, promoting standards of conduct, and networking. Some may also make recommendations or nominations for appointments to judgeships. Voluntary Bar Associations exist at the national, state, and local levels. Membership is often open to law students and other professionals that do not practice law.
The American Bar Association is a voluntary, national Bar Association that is active in setting academic standards for law schools, as well as upholding ethical standards and promoting continuing education among its members. The American Bar Association has also developed model rules for allowing lawyers licensed in one state to practice in another.
In addition to numerous Voluntary Bar Associations established for states, counties, and localities, many have been created for specific groups of lawyers or for lawyers with specialized areas of expertise. Examples include Bar Associations created for women or minority lawyers, or for specialists in bankruptcy, immigration, or family law.