October 16, 2018

Military Spouses Advocate for Lawyer Licensing Accommodations

Military Corner
Military Spouse JD Network:  Working to Improve Professional Lives
By Brooke Nattkemper

“What brings you to this state so far from where you went to school/grew up/have roots?” This is an all-too common question for military spouse attorneys seeking a job outside their home state. And while it can be danced around with answers like, “Oh, my spouse’s job,” everyone knows the real answer: “The military sent us here.” Knowing that, the doubts and questions follow. How long will you be here? How committed are you to this job? Are you worth the time, effort, training, and money?

Applying for job after job and going to interviews is hard knowing there will be a hesitancy to hire you because of the military’s intimate involvement in your life. I have personally experienced this in my own job hunt over the years. It can leave you feeling so defeated.

Thankfully, I am part of a strong group that understands this and works to improve the lives of military families in the same situation—the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN.)  We all have the fear of our resumes screaming “temporary” or “military.” As a group, we work to combat the negative connotations that may come with that, and provide change.

Our mission is to “support spouses in the legal profession by advocating for licensing accommodations for military spouse attorneys; educating the public about the challenges faced by career-minded military spouses and their families; encouraging the hiring of military spouses; and providing a network connecting military spouse attorneys with each other and their supporters.”  To accomplish this, we have volunteers who spend countless hours lobbying states for rule changes to allow spouses to practice where they have been stationed without having to take another bar exam (we have members who have taken four, five and six bar exams) and others working to build connections with employers to show them the value and benefit of military spouse attorneys. Our members work hard, hit the ground, make calls, and do all the leg work to inform others about the challenges we face. The importance of this work cannot be underestimated, particularly when you consider the value it adds to the lives of many military families.

To date, 30 U.S. states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have recognized the challenges and value of military spouse attorneys and taken steps to help.  The ABA recognized this and passed supporting resolutions. Employers are starting to recognize this and give spouses a chance.

I have benefitted from these collective efforts. I have been licensed in Florida since 2012, and stationed in Kansas with my husband since 2014. I helped with the rule change efforts here in the Sunflower State. Rule 712A allows an attorney who has been admitted to practice law in another state or the District of Columbia, and who is married to a military service member stationed in Kansas, to be admitted to practice law in the state without the need for an additional bar exam. They must be employed as an attorney by or with an active Kansas attorney in good standing to qualify under the rule. When this rule passed in 2016, I finally looked forward to the possibility of returning to the legal field. 

During my two years away from practice, I started my family and spent precious hours with my daughter. But I kept an eye out for opportunities: chances to work remotely that never materialized, federal work that I was too far away from, and taking another bar exam as a last resort. I mention the bar exam as a last resort because, as all attorneys well know, bar exams are expensive, time intensive, and incredibly stressful. When you are a military family, you never know with certainty when you might receive orders to move again, so putting all that time, money, and sanity into a test that may or may not benefit you is a hard gamble to make.

That was my situation. But when Kansas passed their military spouse rule, it felt like the legal world had opened up to me once again. I could immediately begin my job search without having to take the Kansas bar first. When I finally obtained a legal job in Manhattan, Kansas, I had so many emotions, but mostly, I felt incredibly proud. I was gratified that my work and the work of so many others helped make this possible for myself and others like me. It felt good to be back.

MSJDN provides support, professional opportunities, mentoring, and encouragement to me and so many military families. It helps us not lose our own identities to that of our military-member spouse. Trust me—that is precious.

Brooke Nattkemper is a Florida, U.S. Supreme Court, and Kansas-licensed attorney who graduated from Stetson University College of Law, cum laude, in 2012.  She is currently living in Manhattan, Kansas, with her daughter and husband, who is an Army Infantryman.  Her family has been stationed at Fort Riley, KS since 2014.  She was licensed in Kansas under their military spouse rule in June 2018.  While currently engaged in general civil practice, including corporate law, banking law, landlord/tenant matters, and trusts and estates, Nattkemper has experience in dependency, immigration, and criminal law.  She is active with her local military community, an advisor for Kappa Delta sorority, and the Governance Director for MSJDN.

Former Division Chair Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Congratulations to former GPSLD Chair Major General Kenneth D. Gray (US Army, Ret.) who recently received the Judge Advocates Foundation Chief Justice John Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award!