On February 22nd, the California Supreme Court approved amendments to the Rules of Court, including the adoption of Rule 9.41.1, which establishes special admission for Registered Military Spouse Attorneys.

Rule 9.41.1 creates a new special admissions category specific to military spouse attorneys, effective March 1, 2019. This move by the Supreme Court recognizes the unique mobility requirements of military families by granting a pathway to employment for attorney spouses of uniformed service members while on orders to the state.

To be eligible for special admission under Rule 9.41.1, a military spouse applicant must reside in California with their active duty service member on orders and be supervised by a member of the California bar who has actively practiced for the last two years. The supervising attorney must submit a declaration to the State Bar assuming professional responsibility for the work performed by the military spouse attorney. A military spouse may practice for five years under Rule 9.41.1. The full text of the rule can be found here.

MSJDN applauds the progress demonstrated by this step forward in the Golden State, which becomes the 35th jurisdiction to enact a military spouse attorney licensing accommodation. “With adoption of Rule 9.41.1, California is demonstrating its support of our nation’s military and their families,” said MSJDN President Katherine Goyette.

However, MSJDN continues to advocate for a rule in that addresses the following concerns:

1) Overly burdensome supervision requirement undermines the rule: Supervision requirements stigmatize military spouses already facing an estimated 28 percent unemployment rate. The Model Rule put forth by MSJDN explicitly provides that attorney spouses will be subject to the same rules and regulations, including the rules of professional conduct, applicable to all other state-barred attorneys.  The supervision requirements in Rule 9.41.1 should be removed or rewritten to be less burdensome so that employers are encouraged, rather than deterred, from hiring military spouses.

2) Job hunting without an approved license puts military spouse attorneys in an untenable position: Under Rule 9.41.1, a military spouse attorney must obtain a declaration from a supervising attorney in order to register for admission. This creates a logistical roadblock for military spouses on the job hunt who already face an uphill battle to find employment in a new state without an established network. Having to explain to a potential employer that they are not eligible to practice until going through a registration process after being hired means that, in reality, they are likely to be passed over for someone with a license already in hand. A better approach is to allow a military spouse to pre-register prior to the job search in order to approach potential employers with licensure established. A subsequent declaration from a supervising attorney can then be submitted once employment is secured.

The State Bar of California has expressed its intent to review the implementation of Rule 9.41.1 and the impact of supervision in the next three years. MSJDN will continue to work with the Bar and legal community to advance a rule that fully addresses the unique circumstances of military spouse attorneys to the greatest possible extent.

The progress in California would not have been possible without the efforts of the MSJDN Rule Change Team, including MSJDN founder and California native Mary Reding Smith. Questions about MSJDN’s licensing advocacy efforts? Email statelicensing@msjdn.org.

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