Elizabeth Jamison has taken the bar exam twice in two different states. And now, she’s preparing to take it again, in a third state. Each time, she has aced it.
Three bar exams? The extra pressure, study time and cost – crazy you say? It’s the life of a dedicated military spouse who is also a dedicated attorney.
Jamison, a Navy wife and the communications director of Military Spouse JD Network (www.msjdn.com) is just one of the 41 percent of its members who have taken two or more bar exams, usually due to the demands of the military lifestyles.
MSJDN was founded to advocate for military spouses who want to maintain their legal careers in spite of the challenges that frequent military relocations present. Many of these spouses have student loan balances of more than $80,000 and have families to care for, on top of juggling the duties of being a military spouse.
Since attorneys are required to be licensed in the state in which they practice, the time and cost to become licensed in a new state is an uphill battle every two or three years. Recent legislation has allowed many licensed occupations to have reciprocity in different states to accommodate their military moves - but not attorneys.
The highest court in each state governs their licenses, meaning they have to retest every time they PCS. MSJDN is currently working with states to make accommodations for military spouses and has succeeded in nine states.
“Our primary goal is to get these rule changes into effect so that military families can stay together and military spouses can support their families,” Jamison said. “We’re working with each state to address their concerns and the rules in each state reflect the needs of that legal community. For example, some states that have enacted rules allow spouses to become members of that state’s bar permanently, while others permit it for the length of the service member’s orders.”
MSJDN also has an extensive membership of about 1,000 military spouses. The network provides resources for networking, support and job postings. The postings also include non-licensed legal jobs as well. A
“We have so many people say they thought they were the only military spouse trying to pursue a legal career and they are so happy to find our group with like-minded spouses. It’s a very active group and a fantastic perk for those who join MSJDN,” Jamison said.
MSJDN has also partnered with In Gear Career to co-host the program, Homefront Rising, and provide non-partisan political action training to military spouses. This program encourages military spouses to become active in the political process and teaches the entire spectrum of political involvement from the local school board to state-wide Senate races.
MSJDN also assists military families with their pro bono program, Justice for Military Families. Partnering with TAPS, (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), and funded by Newman’s Own Foundation, this program not only provides a way for military spouse attorneys to stay current on the law while serving their community, but connects military family survivors with pro bono legal help as they navigate the often difficult legal challenges that may arise after a military member is killed in action.
“We’re really proud of Justice for Military Families,” Jamison said. “It allows military spouse attorneys to use their talents for the benefit of the military community and fills the justice gap for these families in need of legal assistance.”
MSJDN is currently working on providing continuing education through their website, as well.
Maintaining a legal career as a military spouse can be difficult and expensive, but MSJDN provides a wealth of information and support to help connect spouses and continue to do the work they love, all while navigating the demands of the military lifestyle.