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Legal Profession in Iran: Steps Toward Legal Specialization

Sima Ghaffari


  • The Iranian Bar Association has initiated a Legal Specialization Program to recognize specialized knowledge in various fields of law. 
  • Currently, only the Central Bar Association in Tehran issues specialization certificates, covering areas like insurance law, arbitration, and intellectual property law. 
  • There are concerns about the impartiality of the Center of Attorneys, which is controlled by the judiciary. 
  • Lawyers can specialize in one area only, with requirements including a minimum of three years' experience and additional qualifications like a PhD, publications, teaching experience, or judicial experience.
Legal Profession in Iran: Steps Toward Legal Specialization
Johnny Greig 2021 via Getty Images


Practicing certificates/licenses have been issued to lawyers in Iran since 1928. The first Bill on independence of the Iranian Bar Association was ratified in the Iranian Parliament in February 1955. There are currently more than 70,000 qualified lawyers working in various subject areas of law.

In today’s world, legal specialization is considered “an unexceptional aspect of the profession of law.”In view of the rapidly growing complexity of the law, the acquisition of the particular knowledge of law is undisputed. By accumulating knowledge in a niche, specialization in a career, not generalization, can lead to expertise. In order to formally recognize the specialization of lawyers, the Iranian Bar Association has recently taken effective action in administering the Legal Specialization Program for Iranian lawyers for the first time in Iran. This is considered a voluntary specialization in different fields of the legal practice.

With this in mind, this article will discuss the recent initiative of the Iranian Bar Association related to the establishment of specialty certificate program. In doing so, this article is also intended to give a brief overview of the legal profession in Iran.

The Legal Profession in Iran at a Glance

First, in order to enhance the familiarity with the structure of the Iranian legal profession, it is worth briefly mentioning the regulatory framework of the legal profession. There is only one main category of qualified lawyers who are permitted to advise and represent clients before the Iranian courts. However, there are currently two licensing bodies in Iran: the Iran Bar Association Union (SCODA is the acronym in Persian) and the Center of Attorneys(in accordance with Article 187 of the Third Economic, Social and Cultural Development Plan Act 2000s affiliated to the Iranian judiciary. Despite the fact that the said Act has expired and is no longer in force, the Center of Attorneys still continues to grant practicing licenses to lawyers every year.

In recent years, many notable scholars and practitioners have criticized the existence of the Center of Attorneys which is directly controlled and monitored by the judiciary. It has been argued that this could pose many risks to the professional impartiality and independence of lawyers, possibly due to the lack of institutional autonomy. The existence of impartial and independent attorneys is fundamental to the rule of law and protection of public rights in all communities. Unlike the Center of Attorneys, the Iranian Bar Association has historically strived for independence and receives no financial support from government bodies. Instead, qualified lawyers bear the administrative costs of the Bar Association by paying the membership fees.

One might ask about the stages of legal education that candidates must complete to be eligible as a qualified lawyer in Iran. In order to be able to register for the Iran Bar Exam, candidates must hold at least an L.L.B Degree (a four-year degree in law, bachelor's degree in jurisprudence and Islamic law or equivalent qualification from the Islamic seminaries). After successfully passing the multiple-choice Bar Exam, trainees shall complete an 18-month training period apprenticeship under the direct supervision of the Bar Associations, pass an oral and written qualification examination called Ekhtebar and ultimately, take the oath.

Moreover, only Iranian nationals can enroll for the Iran bar examination. This means that foreigners cannot obtain a license to practice law in Iran even if they are highly qualified in other jurisdictions. Foreign lawyers qualified outside Iran can only provide legal consultancy. The author believes that this restriction will prevent the Iranian legal market from being international. In fact, authorizing law graduates and lawyers of different nationalities to take the bar exam may create a competitive environment in the legal profession.

It is noteworthy that in Iran there is only one route to be eligible to be a qualified lawyer and that is the educational route. Unlike some jurisdictions including France, PhD graduates cannot be qualified lawyers without sitting the entrance exam in Iran. However, there are some exceptions for judges, court clerks, legal representatives of government bodies and members of parliament who are deemed to be qualified without passing the Bar Exam. This applies to judges with 10 years’ experience, and at least 5 years’ experience as a chair or member of a court and parliament members holding a Bachelor of Laws. Accordingly, not only are retired judges not prohibited from acting as qualified lawyers, but also they can apply to practice law without passing the bar examinations.

There is no restriction for lawyers to represent clients throughout the jurisdiction of Iran. In fact, qualified trainees and attorneys are permitted to practice law anywhere in Iranregardless of the geographical area in which they took the bar exam. In terms of the rights to conduct litigation before the courts, all licensed attorneys in Iran are admitted to represent their clients before all First Instance, appeal and supreme courts. Unlike many other legal systems including France and the United Kingdom, professional indemnity insurance (“PII”) is not mandatory for licensed attorneys in Iran.

Specialization of Lawyers in Iran

Iranian qualified lawyers are entitled to represent clients in a wide range of cases, for instance, civil, criminal, family, labor, financial, and bankruptcy cases. Hence, there is no restriction on the legal matter in this respect. However, this model does not identify those who have gone beyond the standard licensing requirements from others.

The formal acknowledgment of the legal specialization can foster professionalism by encouraging lawyers to place limits on their practices in law. It is of importance to note that the Iranian Bar Association recently launched an initiative to issue a certificate of specialization to lawyers wishing to be referred as a specialist in a particular field of law. Certificates of specialization can potentially help clients to identify the best candidates for their cases meeting the high standards of professionalism. Specialization of lawyers is “the today's necessity and the tomorrow's need,” as stated by Dr. Jafar Koosha, the current head of the Iranian Bar Association.

The Iranian Bar Association’s Legal Specialization Program is the first of its kind in Iran and aims to improve lawyers’ competence and also increase proficiency and public protection. The board members of the Iranian Bar Association recognized the need to regulate legal specialization of lawyers more than a decade ago. The board members first set up a special committee on this issue and examined the approaches taken by bar associations in other jurisdictions in this regard. The Iranian Bar Association finally took action in summer 2022 and organized planning procedures for legal specialization. It should be noted that currently only the Central Bar Association in Tehran issues specialization certificates and the provincial bar associationshave not yet started to do so.

The Legal Specialization Program is currently administered through the Iranian Central Bar Association University called University of Applied Science and Technology. Lawyers wishing to obtain specialization certificates can register and submit their applications through the website of the said university. In provincial bar associations, special standing committees will be set up in order to implement the Directive and to issue specialization certificate for lawyers. Hence, no external organization or body can certify a lawyer as a specialist.

The Iranian Bar Association Union issued a formal Directive on issuing the specialization certificates (“Directive”) on 16 January 2022 in order to shed light on the procedures for issuing such licensees. At the time of writing, the legal areas in which the Iranian Bar Association permits lawyers to obtain specialization certificates include certain fields. Article 2 of the Directive introduces 31 areas including contract law, financial law, banking law, intellectual property law, disputes related to smuggling, registration law, commercial disputes, real estate disputes, transportation law, IT law, children and teenagers’ rights, medical law, environment law, tax law, customs related disputes, administrative law, political crimes, media law, oil and gas law, water law, labor and social security law, insurance law, family law, criminal law, the law of armed forces, sport law, art law, rent disputes, and disputes related to article 49 of the Constitution and immigration law. Here is the list of approved specialties currently issued by the Central Bar Association:

  • Insurance law
  • Corporates and business bankruptcy
  • Banking law
  • Cyber law
  • Arbitration
  • Intellectual property law
  • Tax law

Lawyers cannot apply to be specialized in more than one area of practice. However, arbitration is an exception as it mostly deals with procedural topics, rather than substantive legal issues. Hence, lawyers are entitled to declare arbitration as an additional specialty area after successfully passing the exams and courses.

Certification Requirements

One might ask what the general requirements are to obtain a specialization practicing certificate. Article 6 of the Directive has clearly defined the eligibility of lawyers who can apply for a specialization certificate. Qualified lawyer with at least three years of experience may apply for specialization certificates if they meet any of the following requirements:

  1. Have a PhD degree related to the area of law relevant to the specialty area;
  2. Publication or translation of at least one book or three articles in reputable legal journals;
  3. Teaching law at universities for at least 160 hours in related courses in the field in which they wish to become a specialist;
  4. Having at least five years’ experience in providing legal advisory to the government agencies or reputable private entities;
  5. Having served as a judge for 5 years in fields relevant to the areas of law they wish to be specialist; and
  6. Participation in the courses offered by the Bar Associations and achieving the minimum score (14 out of 20) in the final examination.

It is expected that a specialized lawyer demonstrates a broad and comprehensive experience in the specialty field of law. It could be argued that having practiced law for at least three years is not sufficient to apply for the specialization certificate. Of course, as discussed above, Article 6 defines additional requirements. However, these do not seem to be sufficient. In some jurisdictions including the United States, the Bar Associations consider additional general requirements for obtaining specialization certificates. They consider it important to engage substantially with the specialty throughout a certain period (like three years) Practicing law continuously for at least five years and devotion of at least one-third of the practice to a certain field of law appears to be more reasonable. The Bar Associations are recommended to measure the substantial involvement of lawyers by the type and number of cases they have handled and the period of time they have practiced in a particular field.

In addition, completion of training programs in each designated field of specialization of practice and passing written examinations are required for certification of lawyers. The Central Bar Association declared that completion of 100 hours of in-person training courses delivered by the University of the Central Bar Association is mandatory. However, the Isfahan Bar Association, as a provincial Bar, requires participation in at least 20 hours of legal courses. Hence, there is currently no uniform certificate requirement between the Bar Associations when it comes to educational or training courses for lawyers.

The website of the Iranian Bar Association provides a consolidated list of the Iranian lawyers and provides a search toll by name. The Iranian Bar Association has strict regulations when it comes to the advertisement of legal services offered by lawyers. However, it has been clearly stated that lawyers successfully obtaining specialization certificates are permitted to state on their business cards and letterheads that they are certified as a specialist in one particular area of the law. The logic behind this is to promote legal specialization through specialization certificates. In addition, the specialty of the lawyers who have obtained the specialty certificate will be indicated in their public profile available in the database of the Iranian Bar Association.

Last but not least, the authority to certification, withdraw certification and to grant re- recertification is vested in the Bar Associations. The periodic recertification requirements a lawyer shall meet to be considered a specialized lawyer in a certain field is reflected in Article 5 of the Directive. In order to ensure the maintenance of the competence of specialized lawyers in their specialization, the Bar Associations re-issue certificates if lawyers show a continued compliance with the standards and requirements. The specialization certificates are valid for three years.

Concluding Remarks

Specialization is considered an important characteristic of the legal profession. It is time for general practitioners to enhance their particular competence as today the lawyers’ practice should be concentrated on no more than a few subject areas of law. Granting a lawyer a specialization certificate can help clients to determine the competence of lawyers in a particular area of law.

The recent initiative of the Iranian Bar Association Union in relation to the establishment of the specialty certificate program is a welcomed development. Yet, in practice it remains to be seen how the Bar Associations in different provinces of Iran can enhance professionalism through these initiative in the future. When it comes to the minimum years of experience practicing law in a certain legal field, it appears that the certification requirements should be modified as discussed previously. Ultimately, it is recommended to the Bar Association to raise the awareness of the importance of specialization of lawyers among corporates, as potential clients in higher value disputes, and lawyers actively working in different areas of law.