Author’s Note: Jennifer McBee was the first person to be admitted to the North Carolina Bar under the Military Spouse Licensing accommodations in January 2014. We sat down with her to discuss her experience, talk about the process, and gather tips for future spouses seeking admission under the new rule.
A bit about Jennifer: Jennifer went to law school in Nevada. She met her husband, Michael, just a few months prior to graduation in 2004. Michael is an active duty Pararescueman in the United States Air Force. Jennifer practiced at a large law firm for five years, specializing in commercial litigation and commercial bankruptcy. Then, Michael was asked to serve in North Carolina. Jennifer and the couple’s two children moved with Michael across the country to the new duty station. Jennifer knew that being licensed in North Carolina would increase her job prospects. As soon as MSJDN succeeded in passing the new licensing accommodation for military spouses, Jennifer applied.
North Carolina’s rule: Jennifer recognized the value in North Carolina’s rule immediately:
- It did not require her to sit for the bar, since she was active in another jurisdiction;
- It expanded the required time in practice from four out of the last six years to four out of the last eight years;
- It was supposed to give military spouse applicants priority;
- It reduced the application fee from $2000 to $1500;
- It allowed her to practice under supervision while awaiting approval;
- It conferred a permanent license.
February 2013: Jennifer downloaded the comity application from the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners web site and began to work on it.
May 2013: Jennifer completed the application and mailed it in.
September 2013: Jennifer followed up on her application.
September to November 2013: Jennifer’s references were called and background check conducted.
November 2013: Jennifer had her hearing.
January 2014: Almost one year after beginning the process, Jennifer was sworn in.
TIPS ABOUT THE PROCESS
- Use the general comity application found on the NCBLE web site. To Jennifer’s knowledge, there is not a separate one for military spouse applicants. She modified the questions when necessary.
Example: In the question regarding time in practice, scratching out “four out of the last six years” and substituting “four out of the last eight years” as required by the military spouse accommodation.
Example: Included a $1,500 fee instead of $2,000.
- What can take a lot of time for a military spouse: Gathering all the documentation.
-Obtaining driving records from each state in which you have been licensed to drive
-Having all official school transcripts sent to the NCBLE
-Submitting any information on arrests, judgments, etc.
-Recalling addresses of all prior residences
-Listing all previous employers
-Getting a copy of your bar application(s) from any states in which you have been barred
-Locating and contacting non-relatives / non-supervisors as references
-Just be prepared: having official copies sent also adds extra costs
- Label your application and all communications with “Military Spouse Comity Applicant” or similar. This will help ensure that your application is processed under the correct rules.
- Include a copy of the rule with your application packet. It is still a new rule without many applicants using it; this will help the person processing your application.
- Keep in contact with the Comity Application Specialist. It appears that one person handles all processing of comity applications for North Carolina. Also, there does not seem to be specific rules about how military spouses receive priority in the queue. Increase your chances of a more expedient process by keeping in close contact with the comity application specialist, explaining your situation and your desired outcome. Email is her preferred form of communication.
- Be persistent. Again, only one person is in charge of all comity applicants, including military spouse applicants. Your calls and emails may not be answered due to volume. Politely but firmly continue to advocate for your application.
- Give as much detail as possible for each of the questions on the application. Some questions are worded in such a way that you may not understand exactly what it is asking. Provide additional information and explain each answer thoroughly to avoid delays.
Example: One question asks about creditors to whom you owe more than $200. If you owe more than $200 on any credit card on the day your credit report is pulled, but did not name that creditor on the date you completed the application, your application may be delayed. You may have to fill out an affidavit explaining the discrepancy. Jennifer suggests writing out all credit cards that you may incur a balance on, noting current balance as of the application date as well as your credit limit.
Example: Be very clear that you worked full-time, 40+ hours per week, for a minimum of 48 months (four years), giving dates.
- Don’t panic if you get a form letter that seems irrelevant. Because so few military spouse applicants apply for comity under the rule, there are not separate form letters. Some information you receive will not seem to apply to you. Certainly seek clarification, but just be aware that you will probably receive the same communications mailed to general comity applicants.
- Call all your references before turning in your application. This way, they can agree to talk to the NCBLE and they understand what information is expected of them.
- Don’t worry about the hearing. The hearing just asks you to be present to verify the information you provided in your application is true and accurate. Again, be sure to mention that you are a military spouse comity applicant at the beginning of the hearing.
- Be aware that bar dues are not prorated. This means if you get your license in November / December, you will pay bar dues for the entire past year. They are able to hold your license for you until January if you request for them to do so.
- Be patient. The process can seem long and grueling, but take it step by step. Realize that most general comity applicants take between one and one and a half years to be sworn in. Keep your eye on the prize–a permanent license that has reciprocity in fifteen other states.