Licensing Changes Help Military Spouses Stay in Careers

By Katie Lange DoD News,
Defense Media Activity

As a blogger, my job is pretty simple. I go out and write about interesting things going on in the military. It doesn’t involve testing or a license or any extreme studying. But a lot of other careers do, and they’re careers many military spouses have had to give up on because PCSing every few years just isn’t conducive to what they do.

The Defense Department does its best to help connect those spouses with job opportunities, especially since surveys show many service members base their decision to stay in the military on whether their spouse can maintain a career.

Military Spouse JD Network President-elect Josie Beets with retired Army Lt. Gen. Dana Chipman during Making the Right Moves, an annual career conference for military spouse attorneys. MSJDN photo

Military Spouse JD Network President-elect Josie Beets with retired Army Lt. Gen. Dana Chipman during Making the Right Moves, an annual career conference for military spouse attorneys. MSJDN photo

The DoD has done a lot to try to make licensing requirements easier for often-moving spouses in medical and real estate careers, but it’s had a harder time helping lawyers, who have a more difficult licensing process.

For starters, being an attorney involves a ton of schooling and requires you to pass the incredibly hard bar exam (which – fun fact – is actually called “the bar” because a bar is what traditionally separated lawyers, judges and court workers from spectators in the courtroom).

Seriously – I have a lot of friends who are lawyers, and they literally disappeared on me for 3-4 months when they were studying for that test. It’s a big deal considering the time it takes to apply for it, take prep courses (if you choose to), and then take the actual test, which is only offered about twice a year. THEN, you have to be processed for the actual license, which is only usable in the state you live in. All that can take about a year and cost a lot of money.

So you can imagine it would be a pretty big blow to have done all that and then not be able to use your skills because 1) you just moved to a new state, and 2) you don’t have a practicing license there. It’s like all that effort went down the drain.

I know I would be annoyed.

But that problem is changing in a lot of states now, thanks to the Military Spouse JD Network (JD stands for Juris doctorate, which is what you get when you graduate from law school). The network has had great support from the DoD and has managed to get 16 states to change their attorney licensing rules for military spouses, allowing them a temporary license as long as they’re in good standing in the state in which they passed the bar. Those spouses have the same rights and responsibilities as any other lawyer. If they choose to stay in that state permanently, they have to pass that state’s bar like anyone else.

Military Spouse JD Network members meet with fellow military spouse and Washington, D.C., Circuit Court Judge Pattie Millett (center). MSJDN photo

Military Spouse JD Network members meet with fellow military spouse and Washington, D.C., Circuit Court Judge Pattie Millett (center). MSJDN photo

So far, the change is going over really well.

“Colorado has been a really spectacular state. That rule, I think, went live on Sept. 1, 2014, and before the end of that month, we had two or three members who were already licensed in that state,” said military spouse attorney Josie Beets, who is the group’s president-elect.

OK, so you might think, big deal, a couple of lawyers can’t get jobs. But the organization has actually grown to include more than 1,000 military spouse attorneys since it started in 2011.

“No one is more surprised than we are,” Beets said. “We all thought we were the only ones struggling with this type of predicament.”

Most of them joined because they were looking for other military spouse attorneys to share their issues with – the biggest one, of course, being their ability to progress in their profession because of the military commitment. But MSJDN also helps translate their experiences into job skills.

A military spouse attorney received her fifth license to practice thanks to the military spouse comity rule in North Carolina, which allowed her to utilize a waiver rather than take yet another exam. MSJDN photo

A military spouse attorney received her fifth license to practice thanks to the military spouse comity rule in North Carolina, which allowed her to utilize a waiver rather than take yet another exam. MSJDN photo

“They can explain gaps on their resume and talk about being a military family in a way that exemplifies the positive aspects and traits we’ve developed by moving around and dealing with training and deployments,” Beets said. “All of the things that make military spouses so strong and resilient are really great job qualifications.”

Like how one member moved from Rhode Island to Washington state and studied for the bar by listening to podcasts while driving across the country with her four kids.

“You have to be incredibly strong and resilient and really focused on what you want out of your personal and professional life,” Beets said.

The group’s push to change licensing rules is pending in 15 more states.

Attorney or not, if you’re a military spouse, it’s still hard to get a job sometimes. To get help in doing so regardless of your career, check out Military OneSource.

Previous Stories: States Step Up to Remove Barriers for Military Spouse Employment!

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