We’ve come a long way since our organization was founded by two military spouses in 2011. With members at duty stations around the globe, much of MSJDN’s growth has come through the use of social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging have played critical roles in connecting military spouse attorneys with their counterparts and supporters, both globally and in their local communities. Unemployment for military spouses regularly outpaces the national average and military spouse attorneys face additional barriers due to the unique licensing requirements of state bar associations. MSJDN has worked to remove these barriers through our rule change efforts, by connecting military spouse attorneys through membership events and programs, and through employment partnerships with firms. 2014 has been a big year for the Military Spouse JD Network, and we are proud of all the work we have accomplished:

Growing Infrastructure

Membership Dues. Since 2011, MSJDN has experienced unprecedented growth and success. Dues were implemented in Summer 2014 to offset rising administrative costs, fund broader licensing and advocacy initiatives, and enable MSJDN to provide more quality programming and benefits to members.

New Leadership. All of MSJDN’s efforts are overseen by an active Board of Directors, which works hard to keep the organization moving forward, meeting the needs of our members, and improving the lives of military families. This year, 2014-2015, MSJDN introduced a new leadership team, including a transition to a new Board and the Military Spouse JD Foundation’s inaugural Board of Directors. The Foundation’s Board will work closely with MSJDN’s own Board of Directors in overseeing the work of both entities.

Improving Governance. MSJDN’s 2014-2015 leadership team – including the Board of Directors for both MSJDN and the Military Spouse JD Foundation, as well as Committee Chairs – met in July 2014 at the historic Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia for a weekend of strategic planning. During our leadership strategic planning session, we talked about how to make MSJDN more transparent and accessible for our members, our community partners, and the public. We also talked about the long-term vision of our organization, and the infrastructure strengthening that needs to happen to ensure our structural integrity and success now and in the future. Over the next few months, we worked diligently to review, revise, and improve our governing documents – including our Bylaws and Policies and Procedures. These documents are available for your consideration on our website and we welcome your feedback.

Justice for Military Families

Justice for Military Families (JMF) is the pro bono initiative of the Military Spouse JD Foundation (MSJDF). Launched in May 2014, Justice for Military Families is the first national program to provide free legal assistance to military families by matching military spouse attorneys with those in need of counsel. Currently, JMF provides pro bono legal services to the families of fallen servicemembers through a partnership with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). JMF has matched over 25 families of fallen servicemembers with pro bono legal assistance. Success stories include MSJDN members helping a Gold Star widow gain access to her military benefits and assisting a Gold Star mother opening a business in honor of her fallen Marine daughter. MSJDN Pro Bono Director Josie Beets worked diligently throughout 2014 developing a nationwide program utilizing a virtual legal clinic allowing for online application and matching with military spouse attorneys, which will be launched in early 2015. With record unemployment and underemployment, only 34% of MSJDN members are working full time in a job requiring a law license. JMF provide MSJDN member attorneys a way to serve the military community while also building their resumé.

Homefront to Hired

In 2014, the Military Spouse JD Network shined a big spotlight on employers who are really making a difference for military spouses. We all know the (abysmal) statistics on military spouse employment, and the legal profession is certainly no exception. Maintaining a career as a military spouse attorney is tough, and sometimes downright discouraging. If only employers would take a chance on us! MSJDN leaders worked hard to build connections with a number of employers and employment resources, posting job opportunities on our LinkedIn jobs board as well as in our internal Facebook group. Honored in 2014 for their efforts to support military spouse attorneys, MSJDN awarded O’Melveny & Myers LLP with the MSJDN Member’s Choice Award and Lumen Legal with the Homefront to Hired Partner Award.

Membership Engagement

MSJDN has continued to identify and promote opportunities for professional development, networking, leadership growth for membership as well as creating partnerships with other professional organizations, like the ABA; other federal, state, local, and specialized bar associations; as well as building relationships with government representatives, other military family organizations, and private sector partners. Some of our most meaningful engagement, education, and networking occurs during our membership engagements held across the country:

  • Deep In the Heart – January 2014 – Austin, TX. In recognition of Texas becoming the first state to initiate a licensing accommodation policy for milspouse attorneys, MSJDN hosted this engagement in Austin celebrating Texas support for military spouse attorneys featuring guest speakers from the Texas State Judiciary and ample networking with MSJDN members and members of the Texas bar.
  • Annual Reception – May 2014 – Washington, DC. MSJDN members from the DC region and across the country gathered for MSJDN’s First Annual Reception to celebrate another year of accomplishments for the organization. The Member’s Choice and Homefront to Hired Partners Award were given and the MSJDN leadership gavel was passed.
  • Founders Day Celebrations – June 2014 – Across the Country. Members across the country gathered in person and shared toasts and well wishes via social media in celebration of the founding of MSJDN in June 2011.
  • Supreme Court Swearing In – October 2014 – Washington, DC. 12 members of the Military Spouse JD Network were admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Sponsored by D.C. Circuit Court Judge Patricia Millett and O’Melveny & Myers counsel Meaghan VerGow, the military spouse attorneys enjoyed a tour of the court, lunch in the Supreme Court cafeteria, and a morning of oral arguments, in addition to the honor of being sworn in to the Court’s bar.
  • Making the Right Moves – October 2014 – San Diego, CA. MSJDN’s second annual day of professional development was our first west coast event and included panel sessions on being a more effective communicator, leading a nontraditional legal career, networking in your legal community, engaging in the political process, and the steps that lead to the bench.

Homefront Rising

Homefront Rising is a non-partisan political training coordinated by MSJDN and In Gear Career that targets military spouse attorneys and other military family advocates. Unlike any other group in America, the decisions made on the Hill in Washington, D.C., directly impacted every aspect of a military spouse’s life. As such, it is imperative that spouses not only understand the political process, but also that they are engaged with it. Homefront Rising provide non-partisan education to military spouses and advocates from the best experts in politics. The end goal is to encourage military spouses to become active in the process that affects them so profoundly. MSJDN and In Gear Career hosted two HFR events, Washington DC in February 2014 and Tampa, Florida in June 2014.

Rule Changes

It has been a very busy year for MSJDN rule change efforts. Four states passed formal rule changes, and two states enacted policies by which the licensing authority may consider military spouse attorney waivers on a case-by-case basis. We’ve also continued to build support in many other states where our work continues:

  • Effective March 2014, Massachusetts has enacted a policy by which military spouses may seek a waiver of the state’s practice requirement, to be considered by the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners on a case-by-case basis. More information about the waiver process can be found here.
  • On Friday, May 16, 2014, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an order adopting a new attorney licensing rule aimed at easing the burden on military spouse attorneys seeking to practice law while on orders to military installations in Virginia and the National Capital Region. More information about the Virginia milspouse rule can be found here.
  • On June 13, 2014, the Colorado Supreme Court passed a licensing accommodation rule for military spouse attorneys, and that rule becomes effective September 1. More information about Colorado’s new rule can be found here.
  • On July 25, 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court passed a licensing accommodation rule for military spouse attorneys, after work by MSJDN that included testimony by two members before the New Jersey Supreme Court. The New Jersey rule becomes effective on January 1, 2015. You can read more about the new rule, and MSJDN’s efforts in New Jersey here.
  • New York has enacted a policy, similar to that in Massachusetts, by which the Board of Law Examiners may consider, on a case-by-case-basis, requests to waive the state’s time-in-practice requirement. To read more about the New York policy, and the efforts in New York that led up to it, click here.
  • On December 15, 2014, the Oklahoma Supreme Court approved a licensing accommodation for military spouse attorneys moving to the state due to their active duty service member’s orders. You can read more about the new rule, and MSJDN’s efforts in Oklahoma here.

Recognizing Membership Accomplishments

We know we have some amazing members, and we’re not the only ones that know it. Our members are being recognized by their communities in many different ways. In 2014 MSJDN as an organization received Ms. JD’s Strength In Numbers Award. Board Member Reda Hicks served as the Army Spouse of the Year. Past President Mary Reding was recognized by the Washington DC Women’s Bar Association as a Star of the Bar. Board Member Natalie Wilson won the Belva Lockwood Outstanding Young Lawyer Award from the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association. MSJDN Member Maria Chavez-Black received the Attorney of the Year award from the American Bar Association’s Immigration Justice Project (“IJP”) in San Diego, California. MSJDN Members Hayne Caliva and Lauren Roland were recognized by the North Carolina Defense Business Association.

MSJDN also honored some amazing members this year. We recognized MSJDN member and U.S. Army Judge Advocate Jenna Grassbaugh with MSJDN’s Exceptional Service Award. Separated by only six years, Jenna lost her husband, served in combat, graduated from law school, finished her JAG training, and made a $250,000 donation to her law school, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, to start a veterans’ legal clinic in his name, the Captain Jonathan D. Grassbaugh Veterans Project. MSJDN also honored the honorable Judge Patricia Millett, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, with MSJDN’s Professional Excellence Award.

What’s In Store for 2015?

Our licensing accommodation efforts have resulted in rule change victories across the country, with many more very close to success. We’ve provided invaluable networking and fellowship opportunities for our members, at both in person events and online. We plan to continue this important work, but we need your help to continue these efforts. Participate, contribute, attend an event, join a committee, volunteer, submit something for one of our publications or blogs, invite another military spouse attorney to join us, let us know how we’re doing. Send me your thoughts and comments at president@msjdn.org. I look forward to hearing from you.