USA - Iowa International Trade in Legal Services

United States of America - Iowa International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector

IOWA CODE (2013), TITLE XV, Chapter 602.1206  Rules for judges and attorneys

Under what title do lawyers practise?

Attorney at law

How does an individual lawyer obtain a "licence" to practise law? How often must this be renewed?

An individual must have an LLB or JD from an ABA approved law school, satisfy character and fitness to practice requirements, and have passed the bar exam.  The applicant can also be admitted without examination after regularly engaging in the practice of law in another US jurisdiction for at least five of the last seven years.   Iowa Ct. Rs. 31.12, 31.13.  An applicant seeking admission on motion does not have to meet the educational requirement listed above.

Does this entitle the holder to practise throughout the country? If the law license only permits one to practice on a sub-national level, please explain the jurisdictional limits

This only automatically entitles the holder to practise in Iowa. The right to practise on a temporary basis in another state or to appear pro hac vice in another state depends on the explicit permission of that state.

Are there certain activities that are "reserved" to those who are licensed to practise law in the jurisdiction?












 Iowa Supreme Court Com'n on Unauthorized Practice of Law v. Sturgeon, 635 N.W.2d 679 (Iowa 2001)
The commission notes that this court has the inherent authority to define and regulate the practice of law, citing Baker (Committee on Professional Ethics & Conduct v. Baker, 492 N.W.2d 695, 700 (Iowa 1992). In Baker we approved the nonexclusive definition of the practice of law found in Ethical Consideration 3-5:
It is neither necessary nor desirable to attempt the formulation of a single, specific definition of what constitutes the practice of law. However, the practice of law includes, but is not limited to, representing another before the courts; giving of legal advice and counsel to others relating to their rights and obligations under the law; and preparation or approval of the use of legal instruments by which legal rights of others are either obtained, secured or transferred even if such matters never become the subject of a court proceeding. Functionally, the practice of law relates to the rendition of services for others that call for the professional judgment of a lawyer. The essence of professional judgment of the lawyer is the educated ability to relate the general body and philosophy of law to a specific legal problem of a client; and thus, the public interest will be better served if only lawyers are permitted to act in matters involving professional judgment. Where this professional judgment is not involved, non-lawyers, such as court clerks, police officers, abstracters, and many governmental employees, may engage in occupations that require a special knowledge of law in certain areas. But the services of a lawyer are essential in the public interest whenever the exercise of professional judgment is required.
Iowa Rules of Professional Responsibility.

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise law?


What legal forms can lawyers work in? (e.g. self employment, partnership, limited liability partnership, multi-disciplinary partnership, incorporation)

A lawyer may practise as a sole practitioner, in a general or limited liability partnership or as a professional corporation. Fee sharing with non-lawyers is prohibited.

What other ethical or regulatory requirements must a licensed lawyer comply with? 

The Iowa rules of professional conduct which are modelled on the ABA model code.

Do law firms need to receive a "license" (or permission/approval) to practice law?

Not from the Court but may be subject to other notification requirements depending on the form taken (e.g. limited liability company) and the local State code.

Which authority issues licences? Are there different authorities for individuals and firms? 

Licences are issued by Iowa Supreme Court only.



Are there any explicit rules or restrictions other than visas on fly in fly out practice of law? Ie. Do you need to obtain a licence for temporary practice?

Foreign lawyers are not permitted to provide fly-in fly-out services, this is only permitted to lawyers from other US states (see rule 5.5 on Unauthorized Practice of Law).

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a visa to visit clients or to market but not to practice?



Under the WTO commitments of the USA, an individual wishing to practise law on a fly in fly out basis in Iowa would need to be fully admitted to the Iowa Bar or to the Bar of another US State. 'Service salespersons' are permitted to enter the USA for periods of up to 90 days. "Service salespersons" are "persons not based in the territory of the United States and receiving no remuneration from a source located within the United States, who are engaged in activities related to representing a services supplier for the purpose of negotiating for the sale of the services of that supplier where: a) such sales are not directly made to the general public and b) the salesperson is not engaged in supplying the service" Entry for persons named in this section is limited to a ninety-day period.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a licence to establish and practise as a foreign legal consultant and what is the scope of this limited licence?

A foreign lawyer can obtain a limited licence entitling them to offer advisory services in foreign and international law (i.e. become a foreign legal consultant). The relevant legislation is the Iowa Court Rule No 31.8.  This is available online at In order to offer advisory services in foreign and international law, a foreign legal consultant is not required but may enter a commercial association with local lawyers.  The supreme court may license to practice in the State of Iowa as a foreign legal consultant, without examination, an applicant who: a. Is, and for at least five years has been, a member in good standing of a recognized legal profession in a foreign country, the members of which are admitted to practice as lawyers or counsellors at law or the equivalent and are subject to effective regulation and discipline by a duly constituted professional body or a public authority; b. For at least five years preceding his or her application has been a member in good standing of such legal profession and has been lawfully engaged in the practice of law in the foreign country or elsewhere substantially involving or relating to the rendering of advice or the provision of legal services concerning the law of the foreign country; c. Possesses the good moral character and general fitness requisite for a member of the bar of this state; and d. Intends to practice as a foreign legal consultant in this state and to maintain an office in this state for that purpose.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled once a foreign lawyer has been granted a limited licence (e.g. residency requirement)

An FLC must be resident in the United States to be an FLC and subject to the limitations listed in rule 31.18(3), a person licensed under this rule shall be considered a foreign legal consultant affiliated with the bar of this state and shall be entitled and subject to: a. The rights and obligations set forth in the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct or arising from the other conditions and requirements that apply to a member of the bar of this state under the Iowa Court Rules; and b. The rights and obligations of a member of the bar of this state with respect to: (1) Affiliation in the same law firm with one or more members of the bar of this state, including by: 1. Employing one or more members of the bar of this state; 2. Being employed by one or more members of the bar of this state or by any partnership [or professional corporation] that includes members of the bar of this state or that maintains an office in this state; and 3. Being a partner in any partnership [or shareholder in any professional corporation] that includes members of the bar of this state or that maintains an office in this state; and (2) Attorney-client privilege, work-product privilege, and similar professional privileges.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled for a foreign lawyer to qualify for a limited licence? (e.g. prior practice)

Licensure is subject to meeting the requirements of registration.

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation?

The Iowa code of conduct exempts other US lawyers who are not admitted to practice in Iowa from unauthorised practice of law violation provided the legal services they are providing "are in or reasonably related to a pending or potential arbitration, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution proceeding in this or another jurisdiction, if the services arise out of or are reasonably related to the lawyer's practice in a jurisdiction in which the lawyer is admitted to practice and are not services for which the forum requires pro hac vice admission".

Are foreign lawyers allowed to appear in court under any circumstances?


Iowa Rule of Court 31.14. Admission pro hac vice before Iowa courts and administrative agencies.

Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers?  Rule 31.12 Admission of attorneys from other jurisdictions—requirements and fees
(Effective January 19, 2010, intent to practice requirement eliminated.)


Can a foreign law firm obtain a licence to open an office?

There are no separate requirements on law firms. An FLC is permitted to open an office

Even if a foreign law firm does not require a legal licence must they register in some form in order to set up an office? (e.g. with a ministry of company affairs etc)


Are there different types of foreign law firm 'licence'  (e.g. Joint Law Venture, stand alone foreign licence etc)


Is there a quota on the number of licences available?


Are there geographical restrictions on foreign firm licences or on the number of branches a foreign firm can have?


Are there "scope of practice" rules that apply directly to foreign law firms (as opposed to lawyers themselves)? (e.g. home, host, international law), if so, what are they? No
Are there restrictions on the corporate form a foreign law firm can take? Not applicable
Are there rules about the name a foreign law firm can take? Foreign name is permitted
What entity grants a 'license' to a foreign law firm? If that entity is on the Internet, please provide the URL Not applicable


Are there restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm?


May a domestic lawyer be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm?

Yes - this is explicitly recognised in Iowa's FLC rule

Can a domestic lawyer enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer?

Yes - this is explicitly recognised in Iowa's FLC rule

Can a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm employ a foreign lawyer?

Yes - this is explicitly recognised in Iowa's FLC rule



Other useful sources or comments or links


Verified by

Office of Professional Regulation, Iowa (January 2014)