Moments from the First 150 Years of the CBA

Corporate Charter

May 27, 1874

Corporate charter issued stating the “Association [is] established to maintain the honor and dignity of the profession of the law, to cultivate social intercourse amongst its members, and to increase usefulness in promoting the due administration of justice.”

Annual Dinner

December 30, 1874

First annual dinner held at Grand Pacific Hotel at Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Street. The speakers included the Association’s First President William C. Goudy, Lyman Trumbull, Thomas Hoyne, and the United States Secretary of the Interior Orville Browning.

A Home


The Association's initial headquarters was a suite of rooms in the Brown's Building at Clark and Madison and consisted of one meeting room, a dining room open until 3:30 p.m. and two small parlors for smoking and relaxing from 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.  In 1875, its headquarters moved to Farwell Hall on Madison Street west of Clark Street.

Probate Court

April 27, 1877

With the support of the CBA, the Illinois legislature passed a bill establishing the Probate Court.

Appellate Court

June 2, 1877

With pressure from CBA and other groups, the Illinois legislature passed an Act that organized the Appellate Court into four districts.

State Board of Law Examiners

October 27, 1897

The CBA proposed that the Supreme Court establish a State Board of Law Examiners to hold exams four times each year and that the course of study for all applicants be three years. The proposal was adopted by the high court as Rule 39.

Juvenile Court

April 21, 1899

CBA’s draft legislation to establish a Juvenile Court written by member Harvey Hard was signed into law establishing the first Juvenile Court in the world. 

25th Anniversary

May, 1899

In 1899, the Association celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Palmer House. Edgar A. Bancroft summarized the CBA’s major accomplishments at the meeting which included: (a) legislation creating a new state revenue statute; (b) formation of a commission to revise the Code of Practice and Procedure; and (c) establishment of the Juvenile Court Act which was signed into law in 1899 (two weeks before the CBA’s 25th annual meeting).

Judicial Evaluation

June, 1903

CBA held its first "Bar Primary" at which members voted on preferred judicial candidates. Results of primary were shared with the public.

A New Home


The Association moved its headquarters to 105 West Monroe Street.

Candidate Qualifications

November 6, 1908

First CBA report on judicial candidate qualifications was issued. Major Edgar B. Tilman headed the Association's first committee to review candidates and appeared before both major parties to urge nomination of well-qualified men.

CBA Record

May 9, 1910

First issue of The Chicago Bar Association Record was published. Emil C. Wetten was the Record’s first Editor.

Defense of Prisioners


CBA Committee on Defense of Prisoners (a.k.a. the Committee on Defense of Poor Persons Accused of Crime) was established. Criminal Court judges appointed volunteer committee members as defense counsel for indigent defendants. The Committee pre-dated the formation of the Cook County Public Defender's Office which was established on October 1, 1930. 

CBA War Committee

June 3, 1916

CBA War Committee was established to furnish free legal advice to all men in uniform and their dependents.

Judicial Independence

June 6, 1921

CBA’s strong support of judicial independence was threatened during the judicial election of June 6, 1921 as Chicago's powerful political machine built by Mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson endorsed judicial candidates that would help him control patronage appointments. The CBA supported a coalition ticket of candidates from both parties. At the Association's primary vote, the Association's coalition ticket defeated City Hall's choices. The CBA authorized a campaign committee to support and stumped for coalition nominees with reform organizations, churchmen and various women's clubs.

Updating the Educational Requirements for Admission to the Bar

October 1923

The Committee on Legal Education, with input from members and law school deans, proposed that law school admission required completion of at least two years of college, and those attending an accredited law school be required to show at least 1,200 classroom hours prior to admission to the bar. Additionally, the Committee proposed that the time an applicant who pursued legal studies in a law office be increased from three to four years and those applicants be required to submit to annual examinations during the first three years of study prior to admission to the bar. These recommendations were adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Bar Show


The CBA’s famous “Bar Show” formerly known as “Christmas Spirits” first performed its musical roast and parody of local, state, national and international figures. Written and performed entirely by CBA members, the annual Bar Show continues to entertain members and guests, roasting local, state, and national figures from around the world.

Another Move

June 4, 1924

The Association moved to the top floor of the 20-story Burnham building at the  northwest corner of La Salle and Randolph streets where the Annual meeting celebrating the Associations 50th Anniversary was held a few weeks after the move.

Help for the Defense of Prisoners Committee


With volunteer attorneys managing more than 600 cases annually, the Defense of Prisoners Committee began to falter.  It was revitalized with assistance from Northwestern University Law School and United Charities of Chicago with the law school conducting a legal clinic and providing lawyers' assistance and United Charities handling any necessary investigations.

Special Committee on Public Law Offices


The committee was created to look into the law department of the City's Sanitary Department after it became known that many lawyers on the district's payrolls did little to no work. The committee's report indicated that the district was used as a "dumping ground" to reward job recipients for political service or to grant favors to politicians.  Ultimately, 35 lawyers faced disciplinary action, although below the Association's original expectations. 

Younger Members Committee


The predecessor of the current Young Lawyers Section was formed after complaints that Association members in their 30s were being overlooked as candidates for important committees. Albert Elson and Albert E. Jenner were active on those committees seeking reforms in court rules and procedures. Young lawyers persuaded the Board of Managers to support action against judges who were politically involved in teh 1936 election. And rebuffed by the Christmas Spirits producers, the Younger Members Committee organized their own revue.

Civil Practice Act


The Association, in conjunction with the ISBA, proposed an act designed to modernize civil practice.  The Act was passed and became effective in 1934.

Moving on


The Association moves to 29 South La Salle Street.

Lawyer Referral Service

January 1940

The Association's Lawyer Referral System (LRS) implemented in January 1940 was the first LRS in the country.  It served as a model for referral systems in large cities and continues to serve the public in need of obtaining legal advice and legal representation.

African American
Attorneys Welcomed as Members 

November 1945

The Association admits Earl B. Dickerson, Irvin C. Mollison, Sidney A. Jones, Jr. and Loring B. Moore as its first African American members.

Committee for Continuing Legal Education

December 1946

At the end of World War II, the Association created a series of refresher courses in virtually every field of law to bring returning servicemen up-to-date on changes that had gone into effect during their absence. The popularity of these courses led to the creation of the new Committee for Continuing Legal Education.

Committee on Constitutional Revision


The Committee on Constitutional Revision was formed. The Committee was instrumental in the passage of the 1950  "Gateway Amendment," which was designed to make it easier to amend the 1870 Constitution. Even with the Gateway Amendment, passing amendments through both the state legislature and the electorate still proved difficult. Ultimately, a new Constitution was enacted in 1970.  

Chicago Bar Foundation 


The Foundation is formed. Its initial project was the distribution to all judges in Cook County of the 80 standardized jury instructions approved by the Association.

ABA Merit Award


The Association receives the ABA's merit award for outstanding and constructive public service for its work on the revision of the Illinois Supreme Court rules, its continuing efforts to improve the judiciary, and its involvement in a citywide probe of crime.

Committee on Civil Disorders

Spring, 1968

The Committee developed procedures that would insure fair and expeditious handling of those arrested in widespread civil disorders.

Success of the Constitutional Study Committee


To insure an objective constitutional convention, the Association's Committee urged that the Illinois Committee for Constitutional Revision drop party labels in the election of delegates and also require lobbyists at the convention disclose their identities and amounts of money being spent.  The Association's proposal was accepted. The new Illinois Constitution was adopted at a special election on December 15, 1970.

Young Lawyers Section Created

July 1971

The Young Members Committee was reorganized as the Young Lawyers Section so that members under 36 years of age could more directly participate in Association activities. With it's own rules, budget and staff the YLS set as prime objectives an increase in community awareness and involvement in law, the development of law-related education and training programs in community service and volunteer legal assistance, the stimulation of legal reforms, and the creation of professional and educational programs of service to law students, young lawyers, the bar and the judiciary.  

National Recognition for Young Lawyers Section


The Young Lawyers Section was selected b the ABA as the outstanding group of young lawyers in the nation.  An award the YLS has received numerous times. 

Creation of the Attorney Registration Commission


Since its founding, the Association was responsible for disciplining members of the profession.  In 1971, the Association's Board of Managers filed a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court, in conjunction with the Illinois State Bar Association, asking that a separate commission be set up to handle all complaints about lawyers.  The petition also proposed that the state's 22,000 lawyers be assessed an annual fee of $20 to finance the commission. On November 17, 1972, the Supreme Court approved the new disciplinary system.

Judicial Evaluation Process

June 1976

A Resolution concerning the procedures for the evaluation of candidates for judicial offices was adopted by the Board of Managers on June 14, 1976.

Founding of the Public Interest Law Internship


In 1977, the CBA's Board of Managers and The Chicago Bar Foundation founded the Public Interest Law Internship (PILI), which is now known as the Public Interest Law Initiative.

First Woman President


The CBA's first woman President, Esther R. Rothstein, took office in 1977.

Founding of Neighborhood Justice Center

November, 1978

The Young Lawyers Section Neighborhood Justice Center (now the Center for Conflict Resolution) opened in the Uptown-Edgewater Community to provide mediation services.

Ask a Lawyer 


The Association's Ask a Lawyer program kicked off in 1979.  Now known as Call-A-Lawyer, the program is held the third Saturday of every month. It provides an opportunity for the public to call in and ask questions and get free legal information over the phone from volunteer Lawyer Referral Service attorneys.

Defeat of City's Service Tax


The CBA filed a lawsuit in the Illinois Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Chicago's service tax ordinance.  After the CBA filed suit, we were joined by the Chicago Medical Society, the American Institute of Architects, the Chicago Dental Society and the Illinois CPA Society.  The Illinois Supreme Court held that the city's tax violated the Constitution because it represented a tax on occupations. The Illinois Supreme Court also agreed with the CBA's argument that the ordinance violated Section 2 of Article 9 of the Illinois Constitution because it was not uniformly applied, holding that the distinction between attorneys and securities and exchange businesses was "wholly arbitrary and cannot be upheld."  

YLS Founds Center for Disability and Elder Law


The Center for Disability and Elder Law (CDEL) continues to  provide free legal services to low-income residents of Cook County, Illinois who are either elderly or who have permanent disabilities.

CBA Makes Music


At the request of Judge Julia Nowicki and Susan Chernoff (both accomplished cellists), the Board of Managers  approved the formation of a CBA Chamber Music group, which has since become The Chicago Bar Association’s Symphony Orchestra (CBASO) consisting of 50 musicians (lawyers and judges).

CBA Judicial Retention Campaign


In 1986, Operation Greylord disclosed corruption in our court system. Recognizing the adverse impact that could have on the upcoming judicial election, the CBA organized a huge retention campaign to inform the voting public of the many qualified judges on the ballot and urged their support. The CBA printed and distributed thousands of pamphlets throughout the County. The retention campaign was a success and every judge but one, who presided over a controversial case, was retained.

First African American President


Chester L. Blair became the first African American President of the CBA in 1989.

Earl Burrus Dickerson Award


CBA President Chester Blair established the CBA's Dickerson Award.  An award given annual to recognize and honor minority lawyers and judges whose careers at the bar emulate the courage and dedication of Dickerson in making the law the key to justice for all in our society.

CBA files action challenging Tax Accountability Amendment 


The Association filed an court action challenging the constitutionality of the Tax Accountability referendum. Agreeing with the CBA's position, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the Tax Accountability Amendment went beyond the bounds permitted for initiative amendments to the Illinois Supreme Court and knocked the proposition off the November 1990 ballot.

New Headquarters


President Richard J. Phelan (1985) led the Board of Managers in making the Association's historic decision to purchase a six-story turn of the century building, located at 321 S. Plymouth Court, as the site of the CBA's future home. The CBA moved into its 16-story new home in 1990.

CBA Alliance for Women


The CBA’s Alliance for Women Committee was formed in 1992 under the leadership of President Laurel G. Bellows who also served as the Alliance’s first Chair.

Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Proposal


The CBA Committee on the Development of the Law proposed adoption of MCLE in Illinois. MCLE was not adopted in Illinois until 2005.

CBA Insurance Agency


CBA Insurance was founded in 1993 and continues to serve CBA members by offering: LPL, Cyber Security, General Liability, Health, Disability, Life, Wealth Management and Retirement Planning.

Lawyers Lend-a-Hand to Youth Established


The Association and Chicago Bar Foundation established the Lawyers Lend-a-Hand to Youth Program (LLAH).  LLAH became a direct service organization in 2016 with the launch of Lend-A-Hand Tutoring at the CBA. Now a separate 501(c)(3), the program still has strong ties with the CBA. All of LLAH tutoring sessions take place in its building, and in 2020 the CBA allowed it to renovate unused space, which now serves as a tutoring center and office. ​

First Hispanic President


Rene A. Torrado, Jr. became the first Hispanic President of the CBA in 1996.

Vanguard Awards


The Vanguard Awards were established in 1998 by four bar associations to recognize lawyers in Cook County who had made a difference in our diverse communities. Now, 15 bar associations give out the awards annually. 

Barristers Big Band


The Barristers Big Band was founded. It is comprised of 40 lawyers and judges.

First African American Woman President


Hon. Joy V. Cunningham  became the first African American Woman to serve as President in 2005.

Pro Bono Week


In 2005, the CBA and CBF launched our annual Pro Bono Week to celebrate and encourage pro bono work and to educate both the public and the legal community about how lawyers and legal professionals are improving the lives of the less fortunate. Inspired by the success here in Chicago, Pro Bono Week is now a national celebration of pro bono.

CBA Chorus


The CBA’s Chorus was formed in 2006.  It is comprised of 50 lawyers and judges.

First Hispanic Women President


Anita Alvarez became the first Hispanic woman and first ever sitting Cook County State's Attorney to serve as CBA President.

First Asian American President


Aurora Abella-Austriaco (2013) became the first Asian American to serve as CBA President.

@thebar Podcast


The CBA's @thebar podcast launched in 2018 and features interesting and unscripted conversations about legal news making headlines today as well as headline cases from Chicago’s past. With over 150,000 listens, it has gained a following not just in Chicago but throughout the country.

Covid-19 Pandemic


Despite a global pandemic and limited access to the courts, the CBA remained committed to serving its members and the legal profession during the COVID-19 crisis. Quickly adapting to a virtual world, the CBA pivoted to offering all CLE, award programs and committee meetings via ZOOM. On June 25, 2020, the CBA hosted its first-ever virtual annual meeting.

Declaration of Judicial Independence

October 2022

The CBA co-signed the Illinois Judges Association's Declaration of Judicial Independence in an effort to keep politics out of America’s court system ahead of the November 8 General Election. The CBA, along with 18 bar associations and legal groups from across Illinois, came together to educate voters that an independent judiciary is essential to the rule of law and central to maintaining the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances guaranteed by our Constitution.

150th Anniversary Kick-off Event: Community Legal Fair

May 17, 2023

The CBA's 150th Anniversary begins with a Community Legal Fair.  The CBA/CBF Fair is a collaboration among bar associations and legal aid organizations with the goal of bringing the legal community together, showing appreciation to all the organizations who have been a part of our history and to inform the larger community of the diversity of the profession and the many services we offer. 


321 S Plymouth Ct
Chicago, IL 60604, US

About us

Founded in 1874, the Chicago Bar Association is celebrating 150 years of maintaining the honor and dignity of the legal profession, cultivating relationships between members, and promoting the administration of justice and the public good. One of the oldest and most active metropolitan bar associations in the United States, the Chicago Bar Association has more than 17,000 members, including attorneys from every practice area and the judiciary, as well as law students. Through CLE offerings, mentorship, and pro-bono projects, the Association provides resources and opportunities for attorneys of all ages, equipping them with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the modern practice of law.