The Military-Spouse Attorney Fight for Licensing Accommodations Merits National Attention

Harriet O’Neal
Enduring a bar exam every two to three years is not a viable option.

Enduring a bar exam every two to three years is not a viable option.

Megan Betteridge via Shutterstock

Remember how daunting the bar application and examination were? Imagine going through that process every two to three years. That is the reality for many military spouse attorneys (i.e., an attorney married to someone in the military) because the average service member relocates that often. For military spouse attorneys, this means multiple bar examinations, constant employment searches, in perpetuum networking, and often a gap in employment history. Unfortunately, the legal profession largely ignores this reality except for when military spouse attorneys appear before supreme courts and bar associations to challenge unfair rules. The impact of military service too often is detrimental to a military spouse attorney’s career. Thus, there is a growing fight for licensing accommodations for military spouse attorneys across the country.

Typical licensure requirements often prove to be an obstacle for military spouse attorneys. Enduring a bar exam every two to three years is not a viable option. The time required to study for a bar examination, coupled with the time it takes for results to be posted, makes this option even more implausible. When ordered to relocate, military families often are unaware of where their new home will be until one to six months before the actual move. Given the short notice, and that most states require a bar exam that is offered only twice per year, it is unlikely that military spouse attorneys will have time to prepare for the bar exam.

While some states will admit an attorney into its bar without passing a bar exam, the prerequisites for this admission are impractical for military spouse attorneys. Texas requires five years of law practice immediately preceding an application for admission without the bar. If an attorney is young or has multiple employment gaps due to military relocations, that attorney will not meet the years in practice requirement. Georgia requires that the home state of an attorney seeking admission without the bar exam provides reciprocity to Georgia. An attorney from Louisiana, for example, would not meet that requirement because Louisiana does not offer reciprocity to any state. It is unfathomable that military families make the ultimate sacrifice but do not have professional accommodations for the military spouse attorney.

Consequently, the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN), a professional bar association for military spouse attorneys, commits resources to make state licensure requirements more accommodating for military spouse attorneys. According to MSJDN:

  • Approximately half of military spouse attorneys have lived separately from their spouse to maintain a career;
  • 49 percent of spouse attorneys have had an employer that allowed them to work remotely;
  • 86 percent reported that that military service impacts their ability to progress in the legal profession; and,
  • 35 percent have been admitted to two or more jurisdictions by examination with 2 percent being admitted to five or more jurisdictions by a bar exam.

MSJDN campaigns for state supreme courts and bar associations to adopt a model rule allowing special admission for military spouse attorneys. The proposed rule allows admission if the attorney is in good standing in another jurisdiction and residing in the state because of military orders, among other requirements. Given MSJDN’s work, 38 states now provide military spouse attorney licensing accommodations and efforts are underway in eight other states. Tremendous strides have been made and we are heading in the right direction for military spouse attorneys. The motivation is simple: propitious legal careers should not deteriorate because of military life.

Entity:
Topic:

Harriet O’Neal is a Louisiana-licensed attorney and military spouse residing abroad. She gained national attention with her suit in the Georgia Supreme Court for the right to practice law as a military spouse.