How the Legal Community Can Lead the Way  to Support Military Families

How the Legal Community Can Lead the Way to Support Military Families

JURIST Guest Columnist Elizabeth Jamison, Esq. of the Military Spouse JD Network discusses the plight of the military spouse attorney and the need for changes to the current licensing structure …

Earlier this year a series of online threats from ISIS and its sympathizers were directed not just to service members, but also to military spouses, including a military spouse attorney. This attack underscored how the families of those who serve our country often share the burdens of conflict. While not engaged on the battlefield, military spouses sacrifice in numerous ways, including repeated geographic relocations and extended separations. These challenges have significant implications for military spouses, especially those seeking to balance the demands of a legal career with the unique challenges of the military lifestyle. Military spouses will quickly point to their service members as the true heroes; however, it is vital for our communities to recognize the families of our heroes as well. Public support for military families is an important tool in recruiting and retaining quality service members. The legal community can lead the way with meaningful changes by reducing burdensome professional licensing barriers and increasing flexibility in hiring to include military spouse attorneys.

Consider the story of Valerie Hatcher. She graduated a semester early from law school in December 2012. Since then she has lived in Kansas, Texas and now Georgia due to her spouse’s military obligations. After passing the Florida bar exam, Valerie successfully took the Kansas bar exam while also planning an out-of-state wedding and working full-time! She began her legal career as a research attorney to a Kansas Court of Appeals judge and is now employed remotely as a clerk for a Florida-based firm while her husband is stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. Valerie would proudly join the Georgia bar even if it meant a third bar exam, but the financial and logistical realities are daunting. Valerie’s husband received his orders to Georgia after it was too late for Valerie to register for the July exam without being subject to a hefty late fee. Although she could take the next available exam in February, by the time she would be eligible to practice, Valerie will have less than 18 months left in the state. The financial burden of the exam fee, a bar prep course and a third set of annual dues, combined with the uncertainty of finding employment for such a short time, means that Valerie will not be able to contribute her talents to the legal community in Georgia.

Emily Arnett faced similar challenges upon her service member’s relocation to Georgia. Emily passed the California, New York and Florida bar exams and waived in to the District of Columbia. Despite her good standing with four bars and an impressive resumé, she is four months shy of qualifying for reciprocity under Georgia’s rules. Neither Valerie nor Emily will be allowed to practice law during their spouse’s tour of duty in Georgia but it has nothing to do with their qualifications as an attorney and everything to do with the process of obtaining a license.

As the military has engaged in the longest period of sustained conflict in our country’s history, just one-half of one percent of American adults has served on active duty at any given time. The connections between those who serve and the general population grow distant as our veteran population shrinks. It is not that Americans do not value the service of our military. But without a common understanding, the citizenry cannot properly support our military families. A handshake and heartfelt thank you is a nice gesture, but action on meaningful issues like licensing and hiring goes further in making a true impact in the lives of military families.

As of November 2014, 68 percent of employers surveyed reported [PDF] that their company had a stated commitment to hiring veterans. No such numbers exist for military spouses, despite the fact that they face a 26 percent unemployment rate and a 25 percent wage gap compared to their civilian counterparts. But the civilian community is beginning to recognize these challenges and the legal community is working to be part of the solution. In May 2015, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe hosted the first-ever legal career fair specifically for veterans and military spouses. Co-sponsored by Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Shearman and Sterling and others, the fair connected quality legal talent from the military community with participating employers including Proskauer, Hogan and Lovells and Pillsbury.

Hiring military spouses is not just the right thing to do—it is the smart thing. Military spouses possess traits valued in any workplace—leadership, initiative, problem solving and the ability to adapt and perform in changing environments. Ask a military spouse attorney who has successfully navigated a legal career, parenthood and a spouse’s deployment—they are the masters of their practice areas as well as holding down the homefront.

Yet military spouses who seek to develop and maintain a legal career face a myriad of obstacles, stymied by relocations, frustrated with unsupportive employers and under-employed as a result of the current licensing structure. Over half of military spouse attorneys polled earlier this year indicated that they elected to live separately from their spouse at one point during their career in order to maintain continued employment. It is simply not fair to ask military families to endure continued separations when common sense solutions exist to ease these burdens.

As our country continues to commit to military obligations around the globe, it is time to address these employment challenges for military spouses with simple but meaningful fixes to state licensing and employment policies. Recent White House initiatives led by First Lady Michelle Obama have brought much-needed attention to the employment challenges facing military spouses stationed around the globe. In the legal community, the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN) has worked since its formation in 2011 to enact licensing accommodations and connect employers with military spouse attorneys. In February 2012, the American Bar Association House of Delegates passed Resolution 108, encouraging state bar authorities to adopt rules to accommodate military spouse attorneys. In April 2012, Idaho became the first state in the nation to adopt a licensing accommodation to allow qualified military spouses to practice law without the time and expense of additional examination. Twelve other jurisdictions have since followed: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Virginia. MSJDN’s model rule is being pursued in 14 other states, including California, Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee.

A licensing accommodation levels the playing field and recognizes the service of our military families. It does not confer preferred status on military spouses, who must adhere to the same professional standards as any member of a state bar. These attorneys are legal professionals who have demonstrated success, often in several jurisdictions across the country. State and local bar associations should embrace the opportunity to welcome military spouses to their jurisdiction—a group that includes Supreme Court litigators, Peace Corps workers, big law partners, solo practitioners and law school deans. Although they serve willingly alongside their service member, they also face obstacles creating unnecessary sacrifice in the pursuit of their chosen profession. They are simply asking the legal community to help minimize the inherent burdens that come with the military lifestyle through licensing accommodations and increased awareness in hiring practices.

Elizabeth Jamison is the Communications Director for the Military Spouse JD Network. After two military relocations in the past three years, she currently lives in Rhode Island with her husband, a Navy pilot. Despite the transient military lifestyle, Ms. Jamison maintains her career by managing her own virtual law practice and serving as Of Counsel to the Law Office of Thomas Carter

Suggested citation: Elizabeth Jamison, How the Legal Community Can Lead the Way to Support Military Families, JURIST – Professional Commentary, July 14, 2015, http://jurist.org/professional/2015/07/elizabeth-jamison-military-spouses.php.


This article was prepared for publication by Marisa Rodrigues, a Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.