California is home to the largest concentration of military personnel in the country. The legal community in the state has long embraced servicemembers and their families through programs like Swords to Ploughshares Legal Services and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Veterans Justice Center. San Diego was home to the first Stand Down for homeless veterans in 1988, which now includes a wide range of legal services and has grown to around 200 events across the country annually.

That support for those who serve and their families is reflected in the proposed Registered Military Spouse Attorney Rule from the State Bar of California. While MSJDN celebrates the opportunities for military spouses provided by this proposal, inclusion of a supervision requirement hurts rather than helps military families.

Military families move every two to three years on average. These moves are based on the needs of the service, with no regard for a spouse’s career. Attorney spouses must obtain a new bar license with every move to continue to practice law and maintain the profession we love. It is expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting to repeatedly apply for a bar license, study for another exam, and wait for the results in each new jurisdiction. Once licensed, finding employment is a challenge in a new location without an established network and with the “temporary resident” stigma attached to military spouses. Many spouses find themselves unable to sustain a meaningful career given these challenges.

Having helped develop military spouse attorney accommodations in 32 other jurisdictions, MSJDN has learned what does and does not work for this community. In our experience, supervision requirements hurt career-minded military spouses by reinforcing the existing stigma experienced on the job hunt. The lack of an established professional network in a new community makes it nearly impossible to find someone willing to take on the burden of supervision. The requirement for supervision creates ambiguity and burdens members of the California Bar who must agree to subject themselves to discipline on behalf of the supervised lawyer. Requiring supervision is unduly restrictive and burdensome for the military spouse population facing an unemployment rate estimated as high as 28 percent.

MSJDN has collected comments from our members, which reflect the unwieldy implications of a supervision requirement:

  • “I couldn’t find a sponsor.”
  • “The provisional license available…is too restrictive to be of use to a litigator.”
  • “[The] rule requires supervision. From speaking with other attorneys, that makes the rule unmanageable and impractical to justify the expense of obtaining it.”
  • “[The] milspouse provisional admission is great, but difficult for litigators because it requires a sponsor when in court.”
  • “[The] rule requires supervision by another attorney, which would have made my litigation job search impossible.”

The majority of jurisdictions with military spouse attorney accommodations have not imposed a supervision requirement. As an example of an innovative approach, Florida recently enacted a rule which requires employment or participation in a mentoring relationship with a duly-licensed member of the Florida bar, rather than supervision. In addition to providing oversight, this helps military spouse attorneys engage with their local legal communities through mentoring relationships even prior to employment.

MSJDN believes that the proposed California accommodation can be improved to be more in line with the Model Rule for Admission of Military Spouse Attorneys. Our recommendation to remove or amend the supervision requirement does not lower the standard for character and fitness or eliminate adherence to the rules of professional conduct. The Model Rule reflects an appropriate balance of maintaining the highest professional standards and the important public policy interest in supporting California’s military families with a meaningful accommodation.

The only certainty of military life is uncertainty. Military spouses do not decide where we live or how long we live there. Our servicemembers cannot turn down a transfer or quit their jobs if they feel a reassignment is inconvenient for their families. As military spouses, we take great pride in the opportunity to contribute to our nation’s defense by supporting our servicemembers. We ask our colleagues in the legal profession for a modest accommodation to reduce the barriers to building our own careers in which we can also take pride.

How can you help?

Contact the State Bar of California by November 5th to let them know that you support a military spouse attorney rule. Here’s how:

    • in writing to The State Bar of California, Re: Special Admissions Rules, 180 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Attorneys and the public can submit a comment, but if you are…

  • Barred in California: Please include your status as a member of the State Bar along with your support for a military spouse attorney accommodation without supervision.
  • Living in California as a military spouse attorney: Share your story as a military spouse attorney and how an accommodation would help you.
  • Practicing elsewhere on a military spouse attorney license: If you are practicing on a military spouse license in another state that does not require supervision, please share how the rule has helped you.

You can also share this story with your network using the buttons below and ask them to submit a comment in support of a military spouse attorney accommodation without supervision.