by Katherine Lee Goyette
I recently applied for my fourth law license (a military spouse law license at that!) and realized the experience would have gone a lot smoother had I kept a few things in mind. Of course, each person’s application will be different depending on the jurisdiction, but whether or not an NCBE jurisdiction, these are some tips to keep in mind:
(1) Reach out to local MSJDN members in your new duty station area. When we PCS-ed to Fort Carson, I called 3-4 members stationed in Colorado Springs to get a feel for the area and what steps I could take to familiarize myself with the legal community. Unsure who is available in the area? Search the MSJDN member directory, shout-out in our Facebook group or email email@example.com — we have fellow milspouse attorneys across the nation (and OCONUS!).
This PCS, I’ve reached out to the Fort Campbell area MSJDNers: I’ve already attended an MSJDN Fort Campbell meet-up, which allowed me to pick the brains of my fellow MSJDNers about my local military and legal communities.
(2) Check the MSJDN licensing map to see if your duty station jurisdiction has a military spouse law licensing accommodation. To date, 30 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands (someone tell my husband to get orders there!) have military spouse law licensing accommodations for attorneys stationed in their states with their active-duty servicemember-spouses.
I’ve practiced on the Colorado military spouse law licensure accommodation—and was able to get tips on my application and processing times from touching base with local milspouses that had also used the rule as well. My pending Tennessee military spouse law licensure application was submitted January 2018, and was completed after talking to spouses that had also been stationed at Fort Campbell.
(3) Speaking of law licensure applications, flexibility and persistence were two things that I needed to survive the law application process. Recently, I have heard horror stories about law licensure applications: Submitting a long application online to have it “disappear”, and a need to reapply; submitting a long online application to have the website glitch and replace it with someone else’s licensure information; applying for a license, being sworn in, and not provided a law licensure number yet because the court was “still processing” it (and not being allowed to practice!). My NCBE-based application to Tennessee took days of gathering information (residences, employers, traffic history), and I found it helpful that I had saved my bar applications from both Kansas and D.C. But for my saved Kansas and D.C. bar applications, I don’t think I would have remembered the multiple college apartment addresses and speeding tickets from 2012!
(4) Budget for that law license application. Depending on the jurisdiction, multiple (unexpected!) law license application fees might be involved. Tennessee utilizes the NCBE-format application to review character and fitness, so $450 is mailed to the NCBE, while another $375 is mailed to the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners. Upon initial review of the Tennessee law licensure application, I thought I was only getting hit with the $375—to only later realize that my application totaled $825. Fortunately, Tennessee did not require an updated MPRE score, but in the jurisdictions that do that’s another $95 hit (or $190 for late MPRE registration!).
(5) Update your address and contact information with the state and federal courts in which you maintain licenses. Many jurisdictions offer a grace period (i.e. 30 days) in which an attorney is granted to change/update their contact information. For attorneys that forget to update their contact information—this may constitute a violation of professional rules of conduct! When I PCSed to Fort Sill from Fort Carson, I was 8-9 months pregnant and did not update my Kansas registration; this caused a late fee and I ended up paying substantially more in renewal fees that summer. The jurisdictions that I maintain licenses in (Kansas and D.C) both have quick and easy online forms that I can fill out to update my contact information so as to avoid fees and ethical concerns – check to see if the states you are licensed in have this mechanism as well, and bookmark them!
If you run in to bumps along the way with a military spouse licensing rule, don’t hesitate to reach out to the MSJDN State Licensing Director at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to help!