3rd Annual Military Spouse Attorney Surveyby Maureen Lavery

The Military Spouse JD Network has released the results of its third annual survey on military spouse attorney demographics. The survey was open to all military spouse attorneys regardless of MSJDN membership status and collected demographic data on military spouse attorneys in order to better serve this community, shape MSJDN initiatives, and assess organizational impact. For the 2015 survey, 334 individuals took part, representing an approximately 52% increase in participation from 2014.

Portrait of a Military Spouse Attorney

The typical military spouse attorney is female, is married to an active duty military officer, and has at least one child. She has experienced two or more PCS moves and though she is employed full time, she also regularly engages in volunteer work. She maintains an active law license in at least one jurisdiction and has been in practice for over ten years, but earns less than the national average pay for an attorney.

Common Challenges

The challenges common to military spouse attorneys are uncommon to the legal community as a whole. The survey results throw the challenges of being a military spouse attorney into stark relief. 86% of military spouse attorneys report their spouse’s military service has directly impacted the progress of their career. 61% have been asked by a prospective employer about their status as a military spouse. The survey results show that military affiliation is frequently a reason employers choose not to hire military spouse attorneys. Based on participant responses, employers provide a number of explanations for failure to hire, including:

  • The reality of frequent military moves;
  • The concern that deployments will interfere with work performance;
  • The existence of gap periods in resumes; and
  • The perception that the military spouse is looking for a job instead of a career.

Due to frequent PCS moves, licensure in multiple jurisdictions is a reality including the associated time and money spent on obtaining and maintaining bar memberships. Over one third of survey participants are licensed in two or more states. Fortunately, nearly a quarter of respondents have been admitted on motion to a new jurisdiction. One of MSJDN’s primary initiatives is to advocate for change to state licensing rules so that military spouse attorneys may waive in to a state’s bar without examination. Though the majority of survey participants maintain active licensure in every jurisdiction in which they hold a license, approximately one third do not, largely due to the expense associated with bar dues and continuing education requirements.

Another side effect of PCS moves is that it is difficult to maintain employment with one employer for an extended period of time unless the employer is willing to permit a military spouse attorney to work remotely. However, only a third of the survey participants responded that an employer has provided them with such an opportunity to work remotely.

In light of the challenges that military spouse attorneys regularly face, it is unsurprising that half of survey participants have, at one point in their marriage, lived separately from their servicemember in order to maintain a legal career. Of those who have lived apart from their spouses, approximately 30% have done so for a period of a year or more, and about 25% have lived over 1,000 miles apart.

MSJDN’s Mission

MSJDN is providing vital support to the military spouse attorney community, and that is borne out by the survey. The #1 reason cited by members when asked why they joined MSJDN is to meet other military spouse attorneys (87%). Like many in the military family community, military spouse attorneys crave the connection with others who struggle with similar issues.

An executive summary of the 2015 survey results is available here. This demographic data and the challenges it outlines serves to underscore the importance of MSJDN’s mission to improve the lives of military families by empowering military spouses through advocacy, professional networking, and job opportunities.