As we reported last week, two MSJDN members are presenting MSJDN’s licensing accommodation proposal to the New Jersey Supreme Court today. We share the remarks of our New Jersey State Directors Jennifer Talley and Katie McDonough on the blog today as encouragement and support. Their work for military spouse attorneys is enormous, and we appreciate their efforts!
Testimony of Jennifer Talley, MSJDN New Jersey State Director
Good morning Chief Justice Rabner and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. My name is Jennifer Talley. I am an associate attorney with the law firm of Trenk DiPasquale Della Fera and Sodono, a military spouse, and a New Jersey resident. I am here today on behalf of the Military Spouse JD Network to advocate for the passage of a new Court Rule that would provide military spouse attorneys a temporary license to practice law in this state while stationed here with their service member spouse. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Court on this important issue.
I met my husband, CPT Justin Talley of the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corp., while we were both still in law school. Shortly before he reported for duty and commissioned with the JAG Corp, he proposed. I knew then that being married to a service member also meant being married to the service. My career would be different, and difficult, as a military spouse attorney.
I truly never envisioned a life as a military spouse. I lived in New Jersey for virtually my entire life – 28 years. I went to high school at Middletown High School South, college at the College of New Jersey, and law school at Seton Hall. In fact, even after my husband and I were married, we lived apart due to his military orders. I did not accompany him to Fort Drum, New York, his first duty station. I remained in New Jersey practicing at Trenk DiPasquale for the better part of three years. We only saw each other on some weekends and holidays. My husband was also deployed to Afghanistan during the first year of our marriage.
Only this past summer, not even one year ago, did we finally reside in the same state. We now live in Maryland together. This arrangement is not unusual for military spouse attorneys. In general, being a military spouse means picking up your life and moving every 2 to 3 years. It means never putting down traditional roots. It means being near family is a luxury most don’t get to enjoy. It means spending holidays, long nights, and family crises alone because of deployments, military training, and field exercises. It means finding a job that requires a license is next to impossible unless a rule like the one we are advocating for here today is already in place.
During my first year practicing law in New Jersey, I found out about a bar organization called the Military Spouse JD Network through my good friend and colleague, Katie McDonough, who is also an Army Spouse, an attorney, and will be speaking before the Court today as well.
The Military Spouse JD Network is an international network of legal professionals that advocate for improving the lives of military families. One of MSJDN’s fundamental goals is advocating for licensing accommodations without additional examination due to the unique challenges that military spouse attorneys face in their personal and professional lives. A few years ago, I thought I was one of only a handful of attorneys that was married to a service member. I was wrong; our Network is now approximately 1,000 members nationwide. Our members are dedicated to their families, their careers, and are civic minded and community oriented. 57% of our members have children and three out of four volunteer in their local communities. Unfortunately, only 34% of our members are working full time in a job requiring a law license and 40% have a current student loan balance of more than $80,000.
In an effort to combat these dismal statistics, over the course of 2 years, MSJDN has successfully implemented licensing accommodations for military spouse attorneys in other states. In fact, a little over a week ago, Virginia became the seventh state to adopt a military spouse license accommodation. These rule accommodations, similar to the rule that this Court will consider, are vital to helping our members transition into new jobs as they move with their service members across the country.
Everyone in this room, either a Justice, an attorney, or family member of an attorney, understands the incredible amount of effort that it takes to prepare for an exam that occurs only twice a year. What only the military attorney spouses understand is that simply knowing where his or her service member will be stationed next often comes with only 1-2 months notice, and sometimes no notice at all. We accept this for the service members we love. We do this to support the nation we love.
What MSJDN is advocating for in New Jersey is something that will have no noticeable impact on current New Jersey attorneys, but means absolutely everything to military spouse attorneys. In fact, New Jersey already has the foundation in place to adopt this rule: New Jersey provides for alternate admission for in-house counsel and law professors to practice in the state. For public policy reasons, New Jersey has recognized the importance of providing a different route of admission for these groups of attorneys. The unique challenges that military spouse attorneys face warrant the same recognition.
Similarly, the rule will not create a precedent for reciprocity in New Jersey. MSJDN’s proposed rule, as well as the Subcommittee’s rule, are temporary in nature. The MSJDN Rule proposes that the spouse’s temporary license would terminate when the spouse is no longer in New Jersey due to military orders, when the service member leaves military service, or if the marriage ends and the spouse no longer needs to remain in New Jersey to reside with his or her spouse.
The number of military spouses in New Jersey is small – a handful by our estimation. But to these spouses, the rule would be literally life changing. This is an opportunity for the judiciary and the state of New Jersey to make a meaningful impact on lives of the military spouse attorneys married to service members in our state.
As a lifelong resident of New Jersey, and as a member of the bar, I am proud to be from New Jersey and call New Jersey my home. I believe in New Jersey and I believe that New Jersey should be the next state, the eighth state, to pass a licensing accommodation for military spouse attorneys.
Testimony of Katie McDonough, MSJDN New Jersey State Director
Good morning, Chief Justice Rabner and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. My name is Katie McDonough. Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today about the temporary admission of military spouse attorneys to practice law the state of New Jersey.
I am an attorney currently practicing in the state of New York; I have also been admitted in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. My husband, Michael, and I are both graduates of the Seton Hall University School of Law. We got engaged during my first year of law school, and, while I was contemplating the future of my legal career, he took the oath to become a Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Army. While I was taking finals during my second year of law school, just after we were married, he went away to training for four months. Luckily, he was subsequently stationed at West Point, New York, so we moved to a location halfway between the law school and the military school. That he was posted within commuting distance of two top legal markets made things easy for a while; I thought I was the exception to the rule.
Fast forward two years later, and I am about to say goodbye to Michael again. This time, he is headed off on a permanent change of station to a camp in the outskirts of South Korea for a year-long unaccompanied tour. That means that his family cannot go with him; I will remain authorized to live in New York and will continue my first year as a practicing attorney. An unaccompanied change of station is not enviable, but one of the major reasons Michael volunteered for it is so that he, in exchange for taking on a hardship tour, might be able to get a subsequent station in a location where I can continue to practice law. For reciprocity purposes, I will not have the requisite amount of years in practice to waive in to a jurisdiction, so we hope that he gets stationed in a place that is within commuting distance of my current job or would otherwise permit me to practice. Otherwise, we will have to continue to live apart or I will have to leave my job.
Certainly these challenges abound in military families, and the challenges of my small family are admittedly tame compared with those of many who serve. Michael chose to enter the Army and I chose to continue to earn my law degree, so our challenges are of our own making. My purpose in sharing my story with you today is not because I will one day benefit from an admission rule in New Jersey, but because that next young attorney who marries a Servicemember and finds herself having to decide between her career that has barely begun and that of her spouse should at the very least be able to live with him while he is stateside and seek a legal job at the same time.