Washington is home to almost 70,000 active duty military personnel and 20,000 reservists, along with their families. The legal community in the state has long embraced the military community through programs like the Veterans Project with the Northwest Justice Project. The Legal Assistance for Military Personnel Section of the Washington State Bar Association also supports the delivery of legal services to the military community. In November 2018, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced new resources aimed at helping military service members and veterans deal with legal issues, including the Military Engagement and Directed Advocacy by Lawyers Program. The Attorney General’s office also maintains a Military and Veteran Legal Resource Guide.

That continuing support for those who serve and their families is reflected in the proposed Revisions to Washington License Requirements in Support of Military Spouse Attorneys. MSJDN has built support for a rule change in the state since 2013 and celebrates this progress toward a military spouse attorney licensing accommodation in Washington.

Changes to the existing licensing structure are necessary because military families move every two to three years on average. These moves are based on the needs of the service, with no regard for a spouse’s career. Attorney spouses must obtain a new bar license with every move to continue to practice law and maintain the profession we love. It is expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting to repeatedly apply for a bar license, study for another exam, and wait for admission in each new jurisdiction. Once licensed, finding employment is a challenge in a new location without an established network and with the “temporary resident” stigma attached to military spouses. Many spouses find themselves unable to sustain a meaningful career given these challenges. The proposed rule reduces the barriers to practice by streamlining the requirements for military spouse attorneys who are already licensed and in good standing in another jurisdiction.

Having helped develop the military spouse attorney accommodations in 33 other jurisdictions, MSJDN has learned what does and does not work for this community. The Model Rule, encompassed in the proposed Washington accommodation, does not lower the standard for character and fitness or eliminate adherence to the rules of professional conduct. Instead, it reflects an appropriate balance of maintaining the highest professional standards and the important public policy interest in supporting Washington’s military families with a meaningful accommodation.

How can you help?

Submit a comment to the Washington State Supreme Court by April 30th to let them know that you support the proposed military spouse attorney license. Here’s how:

    • in writing to Clerk of the Supreme Court, P.O. Box 40929, Olympia, WA 98504-0929

Attorneys and the public can submit a comment, but if you are…

  • Barred in Washington: Please include your status as a member of the State Bar along with your support for adoption of MSJDN’s Model Rule.
  • Living in Washington as a military spouse attorney: Share your story as a military spouse attorney and how an accommodation would help you.
  • Practicing elsewhere on a military spouse attorney license: If you are practicing on a military spouse license, please share how the rule has helped you.

You can also share this story with your network using the buttons below and ask them to submit a comment in support of a military spouse attorney accommodation.

2 Comments, RSS

  • Caitlin Moran

    says on:
    February 11, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    I am a member of the Washington State Bar, a veteran, and a military spouse. Through close knowledge of the obstacles military spouse attorneys face in maintaining continual practice, I strongly support a military spouse attorney accommodation without supervision. Such a provision must not include a supervision requirement. A supervision requirement severely restricts and inappropriately reduces to mere legal intern the practice of these capable attorneys who are otherwise fully licensed in another state, but unable to practice because of geographical limitations due to their support to their spouse’s military service.

    Since I passed the Washington State Bar, my spouse’s military service has moved my family to both a state without a military spouse attorney accommodation and to one with a military spouse accommodation, but with a supervision requirement. Under both instances, I have found the barriers to practice not significantly different. In the state without an accommodation, I could appear in cases pro hac vice, with a sponsor attorney for each case. In the state with a military spouse accommodation with a supervisory requirement, I could appear likewise with a sponsor attorney for every case. In both situations finding a supervisor attorney is equally as difficult to establish for the number of cases a full time attorney may want to take on.

    A supervisory requirement functions too much like pro hac vice to be meaningful for attorneys appearing in more than a handful of cases, as many military spouse attorneys aspire to do during their 1-3 years while residing in Washington due to their spouse’s military service. Instead as in both instances, they become a burden to the attorney who graciously sponsors them, requiring their signature on an unwieldy number of court documents in which they also assume responsibility, while the military spouse attorney has already demonstrated they are fully capable of assuming on their own to their respective licensing State Bars. Pro hac vice was designed for particular cases, not the routine practice many military spouse attorneys aspire to achieve each time they relocate their homes to accompany their military spouse.

    Such a status also reminds me of being a law student appearing under Rule 9 or with special student appearance permission from USCIS and Tax Court as a student legal intern, always under a supervising attorney. While such statuses are appropriate for law students learning from their supervisors during law school and who are not taking on the breadth and depth of cases that licensed attorneys take, or for attorneys appearing in one or two cases in Washington on a pro hac vice basis, such a status is not appropriate for licensed military spouse attorneys who have gained entrance to a Bar and aspire to practice more significantly in the state of Washington, but who lack the requisite time and resources to gain admission otherwise in Washington as their spouses military service moves their families every 1-3 years. For these reasons, not including a supervisory requirement is important to make an accommodation meaningful.

    Furthermore, a military spouse accommodation without a supervisory requirement would benefit our great state by meaningfully incorporating a corps of legal professionals to serve Washington and its people during military spouse attorneys’ temporary residences in Washington who already exhibit the high standards of professionalism and integrity our Bar requires.

    While my bar membership status would be unaffected by such a change, as I am already admitted to the Washington State Bar, my membership would be enriched by the inclusion of a military spouse attorney accommodation without a supervisory requirement through the contributions of high-caliber, service driven colleagues in the practice of law in the state of Washington. Washington has a history of being among the first to adopt sensible rules that work for its people. The military spouse accommodation is just such a rule. Let us bypass an accommodation in name only and instead lead the way in adopting a meaningful accommodation for military spouse attorneys that is without a supervision requirement because it makes sense and because it is the right thing to do for Washington.

    • Elizabeth Jamison

      says on:
      February 13, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Caitlin! The proposed rule in WA does not contain a supervision requirement. I completely agree with you that such overly burdensome requirements hurt military spouse attorneys more than they help.