by Sanya Sarich Kerksiek
The Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN) has released the results of its fourth annual survey on military spouse attorney demographics and careers. MSJDN developed the survey to help assess organizational impact and to inform the planning of MSJDN initiatives. The survey was open to all military spouse attorneys regardless of MSJDN membership status. Three hundred and seventy-one (371) individuals took part in the 2016 survey, representing an approximately 11% increase in participation from 2015.
The majority of military spouse attorneys (96%) are women and are married to active duty service members (86%). 38% of service member partners are in the Army, 24% are in the Navy, and 22% are in the Air Force. The remainder are affiliated with all other branches of service. While the ranks of military spouse attorney partners vary widely, most (82%) are married to officers. 16% are married to enlisted service members and 2% are married to warrant officers. Approximately 64% of military spouses have children. Of those, the majority (75%) have one or two children, and most of those children are under six years of age. About half of respondents experienced zero to two permanent change of station PCS moves and about half experienced more than three PCS moves.
Most (87%) reported that they have at least one active law license, although only about 70% reported having employment in a job that requires a law license. A majority (67%) are employed full time, about 14% have part time or self-employment, 17% are unemployed and seeking employment, and 8% are unemployed and no longer seeking employment. About 45% reported that they volunteer in their communities, a figure that reflects all volunteer hours and is not specific to pro bono legal work.
Military spouse attorneys face unique challenges to their careers as a result of their spouses’ military service. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of military spouse attorneys report that their spouses’ service has impacted the progress of their careers. Based on the 2016 survey responses, as well as responses from past years, military affiliation is frequently a reason employers choose not to hire military spouse attorneys. Employers provide a number of explanations for choosing not to hire, including:
- The reality of frequent military moves;
- The concern that deployments will interfere with work performance;
- The existence of gap periods in resumes; and
- The perception that the military spouse is looking for a job instead of a career.
Due to PCS moves, licensure in multiple jurisdictions is a reality for many military spouse attorneys, including the associated time and money spent on obtaining and maintaining bar memberships. About one third of survey participants have taken bar exams in two or more states. 28% reported paying more than $500 a year in annual mandatory bar dues, and 42% reported paying between $250 and $500 in bar dues. Fortunately, about 19% of respondents have been admitted to a new jurisdiction without having to take an additional bar exam. One of MSJDN’s primary initiatives is to advocate for change to state licensing rules so that military spouse attorneys may waive in to a state’s bar without examination. To date, 24 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed some form of licensing accommodation for military spouses.
Another side effect of PCS moves is that it is difficult to maintain employment with one employer for an extended period of time unless the employer is willing to permit a military spouse attorney to work remotely. 44% of the survey participants responded that an employer has provided them with an opportunity to work remotely, which is an increase from the results of last year’s survey (which was about 33% of participants).
In light of the challenges that military spouse attorneys regularly face, it is unsurprising that more than half (58%) of survey participants have, at some point in their marriages, lived separately from their service members in order to maintain their legal careers. Of those who have lived apart from their spouses, over half have done so for a period of one year or more, and over half have lived more than one thousand miles apart.
An executive summary of the 2016 survey results is available here. The demographic data and the challenges it outlines serve to underscore the importance of MSJDN’s mission. Like many in the military family community, military spouse attorneys crave connection with others who struggle with similar issues. MSJDN provides vital support to the military spouse attorney community by empowering military spouse attorneys through advocacy, professional networking, and job opportunities.