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July 21, 2021 Voices

After the Resolution: What I Learned from 10 Years of Advocacy

By Mary Reding

Early in her legal career, Eleanor was working as a judge advocate providing complex legal advice to the U.S. Army. Laura was working as a child rights advocate at a high-profile nonprofit in Washington, D.C. Donna was a corporate lawyer at a law firm in Manhattan. I was in-house corporate counsel for Pebble Beach Company. By 2011, those jobs, careers, and dreams were changed forever by love and the decision to marry a member of the military. Each of us started with successful legal careers ahead of us and ended up moving every two to three years across the country and around the world. Over a 20-year military career, the multiple moves can make a spouse’s traditional legal career very difficult, if not impossible.

In June 2011, the four of us came together to form a bar association to represent the interests of lawyers married to servicemembers. What started with a small group quickly grew as we were drawn together by our shared experiences in the military community, our passion for the law, and our desire to serve. Soon after we started, we received the phone call of a lifetime from Roberta D. Liebenberg informing us of the interest of the Commission on Women in the Profession in sponsoring a resolution for the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates. The goal was to remove licensing barriers to allow military spouses to maintain their legal careers.

With the support of Estelle Rogers and Lorie Masters, our sponsors from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, the ABA House of Delegates passed the resolution by a unanimous voice vote. We spent the next 10 years working state to state to change the licensing rules for military spouses. We were successful in creating licensing accommodations for military spouses in 41 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Efforts are underway in six more. Here is what I learned after the House of Delegates resolution:

  1. Invest in people. In a decade, we have grown to more than 1,000 military spouse lawyers—over 90 percent women. Our model was focused on growing leaders and advocates. With hundreds of lawyer members across the country, we knew that people were our biggest asset and we had to invest in them. Our members are experienced lawyers who share a passion for the military community and a knowledge of how to navigate complex legal systems. We provided leadership training, mentorship, and access to job opportunities. In return, we had a committed group of volunteers dedicated to the mission.
  2. Brief, execute, debrief, repeat. Developing and documenting process and procedures for advocacy is key. Strategy, call plans, and a roadmap were created and updated with new lessons learned after every successful state rule change. Our foundation of continuous learning provided critical skills and a cycle of training for our members. We now have hundreds of licensing experts across the country with strategic plans for successful advocacy.
  3. Identify core values and find supporters that share them. Core values of community, service, and opportunity guided our early days and continue to play a key role in decision-making. By defining our core values, it was easy to identify organizations and key influencers that share our vision. We found true partnerships with the Commission on Women in the Profession, judge advocate general organizations, and women’s bar associations across the country. We also identified organizations with shared core values where we could use our expertise to offer pro bono legal services for gold star families.

Looking back on 10 years of advocacy, we are proud of the military spouses who volunteered to create real impact for the military community, and we are inspired by the next generation of military spouses who now have the opportunity to continue successful legal careers. This would not have happened without the support of the ABA and its continued partnership to advance women in the profession.

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By Mary Reding