Last year, MSJDN celebrated as the New York State Board of Law Examiners published a military spouse attorney licensing policy. Now, we celebrate again, as Sarah Gardner-Cox has become the first MSJDN member to be sworn in after utilizing the policy.
Sarah began her legal career when she was licensed in Texas in May 2009, and began working as a Deputy City Attorney for the city of Temple, Texas. However, after three years, her husband – a Blackhawk pilot in the U.S. Army who is currently earning his Masters degree at the Naval Postgraduate School – was transferred from Fort Hood to Fort Rucker, Alabama. Since they knew they would be in Alabama less than a year before moving on to either California or New York, Sarah decided not to seek licensure in Alabama but rather reached out to a firm specializing in municipal law that she had clerked for in law school. The firm hired her to work remotely on document review and other projects, and soon Sarah and her husband were on the move again. In 2013, they moved from Alabama to California, and Sarah was faced with yet another licensing decision.
Sarah says that she “seriously considered sitting for the California Bar Exam, but decided against it in the end.” She describes a situation that many military spouse attorneys have faced in one state or another: “My husband would be in California for two years, and by the time I would have signed up, taken the exam, and received my results, I really would have only had about a year to practice.” So instead, Sarah continued working remotely and decided to focus her efforts on New York.
While in California, Sarah had the opportunity to meet MSJDN’s founder and immediate past president, Mary Reding, who then connected her with MSJDN’s New York State Director, Christine Bacon. Christine was able to keep Sarah in the loop on the licensing efforts in New York and assist her in the process. Sarah explains that: “New York gives reciprocity to attorneys in certain states who have practiced 5 out of the last 7 years.” In May 2014, Sarah had practiced for five years but was concerned that two of those years had been working remotely and part time. Sarah, however, was able to utilize the waiver process found in New York Court of Appeals Rule 520.14, which the Board of Law Examiners invited military spouse attorneys to pursue. Sarah describes her appeal as “very simple,” and after providing one clarification to the Court, she received her waiver within six weeks.
Next, Sarah had to tackle the New York application for admission on motion under Court of Appeals Rule 520.10. Christine encouraged her to reach out to John McAlary, the Executive Director of the Board of Law Examiners, and Sarah took her advice. Sarah says that: “Mr. McAlary was incredibly helpful and walked me through the application process. He also went above and beyond by contacting the Department I was applying to.” This allowed Sarah to know exactly when to submit her application so that she could participate in the next available swearing in. Sarah notes that New York does require an in-person character interview, but thankfully the Department in which she was sworn in conducts the interview on the same day as the swearing in itself. Sarah was officially sworn in in December 2014.
Christine Bacon continues her work as MSJDN’s New York State Director. Upon the New York State Board of Law Examiners’ publication of the military spouse attorney licensing policy, Christine remarked that it is “wonderful to see public support of military spouse attorneys” in New York. She added that: “The Court and BOLE’s willingness to consider military spouse status as a factor in granting a waiver of prior practice requirements is a welcome first step to help experienced out-of-state attorneys gain admission on motion under Section 520.10. I remain hopeful that the Court will ultimately adopt a distinct admission rule to allow less experienced attorneys to build their legal careers without forcing them to choose between incurring the expense and delay of yet another bar exam or remaining behind in their jurisdictions of admittance while military orders send their servicemember spouses to New York.”
Please join MSJDN in thanking Christine Bacon for all of her work in New York on behalf of military spouse attorneys and in wholeheartedly congratulating Sarah Gardner-Cox on her admission to practice in New York!