The Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN) is a group of military spouse attorneys, founded in 2011 by two military spouses frustrated with the challenges of maintaining a legal career that seemed incompatible with the military lifestyle. They formed MSJDN to advocate for licensing accommodations for military spouses with legal degrees and bring together the legal and military communities. In under four years, MSJDN has swelled to over 1,000 members and supporters. Due to the geographic distribution of 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. MSJDN continues to embrace online resources with the creation of a virtual legal clinic allowing members to utilize their legal skills for the benefit of servicemembers and their 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). A nationwide program utilizing a virtual legal clinic allowing for online application and matching with military spouse attorneys will be launched in early 2015.
“We have access to a group of people with very specified skills in our military spouse attorney members.” said Josie Beets, Pro Bono Director for JMF. “We wanted a way to provide our members with a way of serving the military community. When we looked for an existing national organization providing free legal help to military families, we couldn’t find one. So we started our own.”
Since its inception in May 2014, JMF has matched 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. The work of these volunteer military spouses has affected both the military families and the attorneys in profound ways. Jill Soubel, the attorney spouse of an Air National Guard Reservist, assisted with a landlord/tenant issue in Philadelphia and said afterwards, “I am so glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone to help a military family, and now am proud to say that I have the smallest of hands in a valiant Marine’s legacy.”
While many pro bono programs exist at the national, state and local level to assist servicemembers, there are few programs that serve the legal needs of their families, even though both face unique legal issues due to their service. With record unemployment and underemployment, only 34% of MSJDN members are working full time in a job requiring a law license. JMF provide theses attorneys a way to serve the military community while also building their resumé. The meaningful impact made by this program will continue to grow with the launch of the virtual clinic in the coming months.