Member Spotlight: Emily Chafa

Emily Chafa

Emily Chafa manages the IWD UI Appeals Bureau, where she supervises the ALJs who hear and decide unemployment appeals. She can be reached by email at, by telephone at 515-725-1201, or by mail at Iowa Workforce Development, UI Appeals Bureau, 1000 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309-0209.

Notable achievements? Making a difference in Des Moines and throughout the state during my legal career with the City of Des Moines and now with the State of Iowa. I’m also proud of my leadership work in numerous professional organizations over the years, including the PCBA, I.O.W.A., ISBA, PCWA, Blackstone Inn of Court. I strive to increase awareness of the value of diversity and inclusiveness in our profession.

Why do I do what I do? I truly enjoy making a difference, without worrying about billing or finding clients. Government legal work is great legal work, in my opinion.

What do I do to get away from work? I sing in my church choir (Plymouth Chancel Choir) and in an auditioned ensemble (Des Moines Vocal Arts Ensemble). I love to watch baseball games, whether it’s the Iowa Cubs, my son’s teams throughout the years, or my Chicago Cubs. I’m also a loyal Cyclone basketball and football fan.

What do I do to give back to the community? My music is a gift to the church congregation and to the audience, as well as a therapeutic escape for myself. I’m almost always serving on at least one nonprofit board, and often volunteering for this and that with other organizations. I volunteer at the Plymouth Career Closet, where clothing is donated to women looking for appropriate interview clothing and professional clothing. It’s a rewarding way to spend many a Saturday morning.

Best thing about the Polk County Bar Association? Networking with other lawyers and judges on a regular basis. The Law Day competition and awards luncheon is my favorite PCBA project.

Words to live by? From In-the-Bag cards: Stand tall through it all. Be people-serving, not self-serving. An apology is the sign of a secure leader. From my parents: Use your time, talent and treasure to better your community.

Favorite book? Anything and everything by Michael Lewis. I love all of his books. So enlightening.

Best place to visit in Polk County? The ISBA building, for meetings, CLE programs, luncheons, special events. It seems to be my home away from home. Best decision the ISBA ever made. It’s a beautiful, functional building.

Anything I would change about Polk County? We really need more places to buy ice cream, in the East Village and on every corner.

Mentor? Judge Celeste Bremer. She is brilliant, no-nonsense, creative, and an inspiration.

What did I want to be growing up? A Broadway star, then a music therapist, then a psychologist. The decision to attend law school came after college.

What songs are included on the soundtrack of my life? This changes on a daily basis. I’m always humming or singing something that fits the day or certain events. There’s a song to fit every situation.

Last movie or favorite movie? Hidden Figures. It’s such a remarkable story, with so many important takeaways.