Summary of 2017 MSJDN Annual Survey Results

by Sanya Sarich Kerksiek

The Military Spouse JD Network has released the results of its fifth annual survey on military spouse attorney demographics and careers. MSJDN developed the survey to help assess MSJDN impact and to inform planning of MSJDN initiatives, which focus on empowering military spouses through advocacy, professional networking, and job opportunities.

The survey ran from December 4, 2017 until January 8, 2018. It was advertised via email and social media and was open to all military spouse attorneys regardless of MSJDN membership. Three hundred and fifty (350) individuals responded.


Approximately 95% of military spouse attorneys are women and 5% are men. Those numbers are consistent with other demographics reports on military spouses. For instance, the 2015 Department of Defense Demographics Report showed 92% of active duty spouses are female and a 2013 report commissioned by the Military Officers Association of America showed 90% of military spouses are female.

Active duty families make up the largest percentage of military spouse attorneys at nearly 85%. In addition, four percent of military spouse attorneys are currently serving in the military, and 13% are veterans.

Military spouse attorneys represent all branches of service. The largest percentage of military spouse attorneys are affiliated with the Army at 39%. Approximately 23% are affiliated with the Navy, 23% with the Air Force, 11% with the Marines, and 3% with the Coast Guard.

While the ranks of military spouse attorney partners vary widely, most (80%) are married to mid-level officers. About 19% are married to enlisted service members and 1% are married to warrant officers.

Approximately 64% of military spouse attorneys have children. Of those, the majority (76%) have one or two children, and most of those children are under six years of age.

Permanent changes of duty station (“PCS moves”) are a frequent occurrence for military families and can happen, on average, every two to three years. Nearly half of military spouse attorneys indicate they have experienced three or more PCS moves. Approximately 40% of respondents indicated only one move during the course of their careers. Some indicated they have experienced more than 10 PCS moves. Not all military spouse attorneys move with their servicemember; approximately half, at one point in their marriage, lived apart from their servicemembers in order to maintain their legal careers.

Military Spouse Attorneys as Professionals

Military spouse attorneys are of all levels of experience, ranging from under 3 years to over ten years. While 87% of military spouse attorneys have a license to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, only about 74% of those working report having employment in a job requiring a law license. Military spouse attorneys practice in a wide range of legal fields and work in a variety of professional settings. Most work in private practice and in government. As a community, military spouses tend to perform significant hours of volunteer work (not including pro bono legal work). Approximately 46% of military spouse attorneys report they volunteer in their communities.

Common Challenges

Military spouse attorneys face unique challenges to their careers as a result of their spouses’ military service. Almost 90% of military spouse attorneys report that their spouses’ service has impacted the progress of their careers. The 2017 survey responses, as well as responses from past years, indicate that military affiliation is frequently a reason employers choose not to hire military spouse attorneys

Due to PCS moves, licensure in multiple jurisdictions is a reality for many military spouse attorneys, including the associated time and money spent on obtaining and maintaining bar memberships. About one third of survey participants have taken bar exams in two or more states. Almost 30% reported paying more than $500 a year in annual mandatory bar dues, and 43% reported paying between $250 and $500 in bar dues.

Fortunately, about 19% of respondents have been admitted to a new jurisdiction without having to take an additional bar exam. One of MSJDN’s primary initiatives is to advocate for change to state licensing rules so that military spouse attorneys already admitted and in good standing in one jurisdiction may waive in to a state’s bar without examination for the period they reside in the state due to a servicemember’s orders. To date, 29 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed a licensing accommodation for military spouses, and efforts are underway in 14 additional states.

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. In 2013, only 33% of respondents reported that an employer has provided them with an opportunity to work remotely. In 2017, 45% of the survey participants responded that an employer has provided them with an opportunity to work remotely.

MSJDN’s Mission

An executive summary of the 2017 survey results, including easy-to-read graphs, is available here. The demographic data underscore the importance of MSJDN’s mission. Like many in the military community, military spouse attorneys crave connection with others who struggle with similar issues. MSJDN–currently at 700 members strong–provides vital support to the military spouse attorney community through its networking and professional development events, its active members’ Facebook group, and its state licensing efforts.