Salute to Spouses Blog

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Military Spouse Attorneys: Does your state have relaxed licensing rules?

It’s no secret that military spouses experience plenty of barriers as they try to maintain full-time careers and frequently relocate due to PCS orders.

For many, the choice becomes to either stay where they are and keep the current job, or keep the family intact and risk not getting a job in their chosen career at the new duty station. But, why should they have to choose between the two? They shouldn’t! And thanks to the work of the Military Spouse JD Network, fewer attorneys have to make that choice.

At the height of the 2011 PCS season two military spouses turned their frustration with the challenges of maintaining their legal careers into motivation to advocate for licensing accommodations. They started by drafting a model rule to help jurisdictions set their own rules to ease licensing for relocating military spouses who have law degrees.

Now, with more than 1,000 members and supporters, including the the American Bar Association, the MSJDN has successfully influenced 19 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands to adopt their own version of the rule, allowing military spouse attorneys to practice in the state where the service member is stationed if the spouse is in good standing in another state. In other words, they do not have to re-take the bar exam with every move.

“Licensing is a critical piece of the employment issue for military spouses,” said Libby Jamison, president elect of MSJDN. “It can be burdensome and costly to maintain licensing in several states.”

According to the MSJDN website, licensing can take up to a year and include an application, character and fitness review, bar exam and processing. Gaps in employment can cause additional delays. And, it can cost $4,000 to $5,000 in preparation materials and fees each time they apply.

Sometimes, states may tweak the model licensing rule or language to fit their needs, but those tweaks can cause further burdens like fees or supervision.

“My least favorite change is when states add a supervision requirement to spouses,” said Johanna Thibault, communications director at MSJDN.

But, even when the licensing barrier is out of the way, getting a job isn’t a sure thing.

“Employment is the bottom line and when someone has been practicing for 10-15 years, it can be burdensome to the employee and employer,” said Jamison. “Our clients won't pay for two attorneys just so one of them can be supervised when she has that much work experience.”

Overall, MSJDN is enjoying great momentum right now.

“We are working in 18 more states right now and are focused on getting all 50 states onboard,” Thibault said. “As a next step, we will also evaluate where we can consider helping some states with revising the rules they initially put in place to determine if there are ways to improve them.”

Jamison added, “The most important thing with all the work we have done is that companies, firms and communities are really starting to understand more that military spouses are career-minded, capable, flexible and good employees who want to contribute to their communities.”

For more information about the status of the states and MSJDN efforts, visit

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