State bar associations are a bar association, which represents the lawyers practicing law within a U.S. state. The functions of this group varies from state-to-state and often includes the administration of the state bar examination. They are in charge of the Continuing Legal Education and other requirements for lawyers, as well as overseeing the discipline of lawyers for ethical and other types of violations.
Services are generally provided by the state bar, like maintaining a directory of attorneys practicing within the state, publishing a bar journal, planning social events for lawyers and providing necessary classes to fulfill the CLE credit requirements. Historically, there was no state bar association in any of the states, until 1763, and people became lawyers by clerking for judges and lawyers and then took an oral exam before a panel of judges. (See also, “California Bar Examination: Information and History”. The State Bar of California. p. 3.) In California and a few other states, one can still become a lawyer with now law school. (Source.)
Mandatory and Voluntary Bars
Generally the state bar association is mandatory for lawyers to join as a member for them to be able to practice, since it regulates the admission of attorneys to practice in the state. They regulate the practice of lawyers within the state, under the power from legislative statute and from the power of the state court system. This may also be known as an integrated bar association, in some states.
There are some states, which the state bar association membership is voluntary, then in others it is mandatory and exists for the main purpose of regulating admission to practice. The voluntary organization has other purposes for lawyers. One example of this is in Virginia, where the Virginia State Bar is mandatory for legal professionals, but the Virginia Bar Association is a voluntary membership. (Sources.)
Bar associations are not only state bar organizations, there are others, which are organized geographically, such as county bar associations, ethnic bar associations, area of practice or affiliation organizations. These are voluntary organizations the practicing attorney can join that have purposes other than the regulation of lawyers.
Legal Continuing Education Requirements
In most states, the state bar association have rules, which require members to complete Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and they generally offer courses for the attorneys in the area with members of this bar association will usually receiving discounts. This is probably the most important function of the bar itself. There are many organizations that offer their members CLE programs, along with the state bar association.
In Kentucky, there is a two-day program offered by the Kentucky Bar Association that is known as the Kentucky Law Update and is held in at least seven locations throughout the state. This allows members to attend the CLE program and fulfill their requirements without a registration fee. So this is basically what a state bar is and is not.