by Angela M. Allen
Unlike many other U.S. jurisdictions, licensing accommodations for the practice of law in Michigan must go through the legislature rather than the judiciary. MSJDN’s previous success in its efforts to achieve adoption of licensing accommodations has come in many varieties and often takes “a village” of driven military spouse attorneys and their networks to reach the finish line.
The Michigan success started with a cousin. Michigan State Representative Robert Wittenberg is the cousin of MSJDN member Lauren Wittenberg. After Lauren shared the MSJDN’s mission with her cousin, he agreed without hesitation to take on our cause in the state of Michigan. Not only did Representative Wittenberg introduce and sponsor two bills to enact a licensing accommodation for military spouses stationed in Michigan, he personally shepherded those bills all the way to the Governor’s desk for signing.
Early in the process, MSJDN President Josie Beets and State Licensing Board Chair Karen Scanlan worked closely with Representative Wittenberg to ensure the bills were consistent with MSJDN’s mission. The bills were first introduced to the House Committee on Government Operations by Representative Wittenberg, and co-sponsored by Representative David Maturen, on February 2, 2016. Once approved by Government Operations, the bills move on to the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, and then finally the House Committee on the Judiciary. On September 22, 2016, both of the bills passed the Michigan House of Representatives. Josie Beets, Karen Scanlan and Elizabeth (“Libby”) Jamison submitted letters of written testimony in support of the bills on behalf of MSJDN. Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian K. Zahra also lent his esteemed support to the bills.
While Representative Wittenberg was busy shepherding these bills through the legislature, I was scheduled for an interview for a feature in the Michigan Law School Alumni magazine, the Quadrangle, regarding MSJDN and my efforts in Illinois to support a military spouse licensure accommodation (now Illinois Supreme Court Rule 719). As part of this process, I reached out to MSJDN leadership to inquire as to any efforts in Michigan I might credit in my interview. I immediately agreed to Karen Scanlan’s request to testify to the Michigan Senate Committee on the Judiciary in support of both bills. On December 8, 2016, I traveled from Chicago to Lansing to provide my testimony in support of the bills in the midst of an awful blizzard. But it was the opportunity of a lifetime and all the best of #whyiMSJDN.The bills unanimously passed the Senate on December 14, 2016 and were signed by Governor Snyder into law on January 4, 2017.
In sum, the new law provides that a military spouse who is licensed to practice in another jurisdiction and in good standing, and whose service member spouse is assigned to a duty station in Michigan, may apply for admission without an additional bar examination and may practice in Michigan until (1) the service member spouse is no longer on active duty, (2) the military spouse attorney is no longer married to the service member spouse; or (3) the service member spouse receives a permanent duty transfer out of state.
Thank you to everyone involved at each step along the way on this incredible effort. Military spouse attorney Jocelyn Benson first brought the issue of military spouse law licensing and MSJDN’s national efforts to the Michigan legal community while she was Dean of Wayne State Law School; MSJDN is grateful for her leadership. We especially thank Lauren Wittenberg Weiner for putting MSJDN in contact with Representative Robert Wittenberg, and for Representative Wittenberg and his amazing Legislative Director Barbara Winter who coordinated with MSJDN and worked tirelessly on behalf of these bills. Our thanks extend also to the support of the many co-sponsors including Representative Maturen, and the honorable Justice Zahra.
If you are stationed or live in a jurisdiction that has not yet adopted a rule for licensure accommodations for military attorney spouses and you think you might be able to make a difference or join a team, contact Karen Scanlan at firstname.lastname@example.org.