Bar History

A Legacy of Service Video

Historians have recognized the first state bar association in the United States as being organized in Natchez by a group of Mississippi lawyers in 1821. The association was created "for the purpose of mutual instruction and protection, and for the honor and respectability of the whole bar of the state." This voluntary organization, however, remained active for only four years and was not reorganized until 1886, when an organizational meeting was held for the election of officers and the adoption of a constitution and by-laws. Annual meetings of this voluntary bar association were regularly held until 1892 when the association was abandoned for the second time.

Again revived in 1906, the voluntary Mississippi state bar association was initially able to stimulate and promote a number of worthwhile projects, such as the adoption of a code of ethics for lawyers and attempts to enforce high ethical standards among lawyers. By the early 1930's, however, the association was having trouble tending to the necessary business of ridding the profession of dishonest and unethical lawyers. Membership in the association declined sharply in 1930 and 1931, and this decline was inevitably accompanied by a corresponding decline in income and effectiveness. The public began to malign the bar as a whole and to spread the idea that disregard of ethics and dereliction of duty was the general rule applicable to the vast majority of the lawyers in the state.

During the first three decades of this century, the concept of a unified bar had been developed in a number of states. By 1918, both the American Bar Association and the American Judicature Society had formulated and published a model statute for bar unification. North Dakota was the first state to establish a unified bar by legislative action in 1921, and eight additional states had unified their bars by 1931. In the early 1930's, these states' experiences were studied by the leaders of the Mississippi state bar association, who concluded that a unified bar would give Mississippi lawyers "adequate machinery for dealing with such questions as professional ethics, discipline, unlawful practice of law, educational requirements, distribution of information, public relations and research in problems of legislative and judicial reform."

The leading lawyers of the day convinced the legislature to enact the Unified Bar Act in 1932, to the end that every practicing attorney in the state was automatically made a member of the Mississippi State Bar subject to its rules and regulations. At the first annual meeting of the unified bar, held in September 1932, discussion centered around "the purpose of the law which forms us into a statewide and all inclusive legal society." W.W. Venable, who had striven for the enactment of the Unified Bar Act, reported as follows:

"The Bar has asked for and has been given...the task of improving the conditions for justice under law. The people of Mississippi, through their legislature, had expressed a confidence that with our new and official status and with our forces combined, we can render a better public service."

Since its unification in 1932, The Mississippi Bar has grown to an organization of more than 8,000 members. The Bar's contributions to improving the administration of justice in Mississippi include the adoption of the Rules of Civil Procedure; Rules of Evidence; increased judicial salaries; administrative support for trial judges; Court of Appeals; and the creation of an Administrative Office of the Courts. Other significant accomplishments include the adoption of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in Mississippi; the establishment of the Interest on Lawyers Trust Account program; the construction of The Mississippi Bar Center and numerous other programs and projects benefiting both the public and profession.

For more information on the history of The Mississippi Bar, see:

"The Mississippi Bar's Centennial Book: A Legacy of Service"
The Mississippi Bar's first 100 years are celebrated in this 310-page commemorative book by bringing the people and events to life and telling the Bar's story in the words of those who shaped its history. Each President's words and oratorical style are highlighted throughout the chapters. The 100-year journey of the Bar is told through the many photos, quotes, letters, speeches, proceedings, listings, and publications on each page. The story of The Mississippi Bar is not simply of the organization, but it is a story of Mississippi lawyers who promoted professionalism and who showed their dedication to a just legal system. This book is a tribute to the thousands of lawyers who are members of The Mississippi Bar, daily serving the public and the legal profession in our state. To order this book, mail $40 plus $8 shipping and handling per book to: The Mississippi Bar, Attention: Communications Department, P. O. Box 2168, Jackson, MS 39225-2168. Include quantity requested and shipping address along with payment.