By: Nicolle Vasquez Del Favero, MSJDN State Licensing Director

THE FACTS:

On August 13th, 2020,  MSJDN learned that an amendment was proposed to Rule 14-805(a)(4)(A), requiring military spouses to pay the full application fee for admission to the Utah State Bar (USB). The current rule requires that military spouses pay half of the full admission fee, which has been a tremendous benefit to military families stationed in Utah. The proposed change adds an undue financial burden to military spouse attorneys and their families, and should be denied.

In March 2019, Utah became the 36th jurisdiction to adopt Rule 14-805, allowing military spouse attorneys in Utah as part of their spouse’s orders to waive into the state bar without having to sit for the bar exam (subject to restrictions). As written, Utah’s current rule demonstrates a clear intention to reduce the financial burden and subsequent barrier to employment caused by a full payment for temporary admission to the USB. Amending this rule to require an increased payment for temporary licensure completely undoes the original intent to aid military spouse attorneys, and adds yet another barrier to overcome in the state of Utah. 

The USB proposed this amendment in response to the “recent federal legislation that reimburses military spouses for their full application fee.” However, relying blindly on this new legislation without fully understanding the total impact of the change on military spouse attorneys in Utah is extremely problematic for the following reasons: 

First, the proposed rule is a financial burden on military families, especially those that rely on one income while a spouse awaits licensure and employment in his or her new home state. On average, active duty military personnel move once every two to three years, 2.4 times as often as civilian families. Military spouses move across state lines 10 times more frequently than their civilian counterparts. As a result of frequent moves, while 85% of military spouse attorneys hold an active law license, only 37% have a job requiring said license. Military spouse attorneys have a 27% unemployment rate, and suffer from a $33,000 wage gap compared to their civilian counterparts. Additionally, during PCS, it is estimated that each military family loses $5,000 out of pocket (even after reimbursements), while 27% of military families have less than $500 in savings. The families of military spouse attorneys also bear the cost of maintaining other state licenses and the CLE expenses that accompany them. The families of military spouse attorneys also bear the cost of maintaining other state licenses and the CLE expenses that accompany them. Asking military families to come up with $850 during the financially strained time of a move to a new duty station is an unnecessary stress and cost for those who simply cannot afford it. Amending the current rule to increase the financial burden on military spouse attorneys attempting to waive into Utah will only add to the problems presented by these staggering statistics. 

Second, there are military spouse attorneys who do not qualify for the federal reimbursement program. To qualify for the Department of Defense (DoD) reimbursement program, military spouse attorneys must have been licensed in their last duty station. An example where this situation would be an issue is a military family stationed overseas where the spouse attorney was unable to use their law license for the duration of that tour. If this family’s next duty station was Utah, the spouse attorney would not qualify for the DoD reimbursement program, and the amendment to Rule 14-805(a)(4)(A) would present a significant barrier to employment by extending the time the spouse attorney was unable to practice law due to an unnecessary financial burden. Those who do qualify for the program report having trouble receiving the actual reimbursement or waiting weeks for payment. Those who do qualify report having trouble receiving the reimbursement or waiting weeks for payment.

Lastly, the DoD reimbursement program is a pilot program set to expire in 2024. A rule change having a severe impact on military families and the careers of military spouse attorneys should not be based on a temporary program.

As our nation faces a global pandemic and a failing economy, proposing an amendment that seeks to create an additional financial burden on a population that already faces so many barriers is unjust, and unreasonable. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Together, we can stop this amendment from passing! 

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