Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners enacts military spouse attorney licensing policy

Issue July 2014 By Elizabeth Jamison

The Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners voluntarily enacted a military spouse attorney licensing policy, effective as of March 2014. The following message appears on their website:

"The Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners welcomes inquiries and applications for admission on motion from attorney spouses of service members in the United States Uniformed Services. Understanding the unique challenges faced by military spouse attorneys who move frequently in support of the nation's defense, the Board of Bar Examiners is committed to working with these applicants to accommodate their unique circumstances and to expedite the bar application process to the extent possible when their service brings them to Massachusetts. Military spouse attorneys are encouraged to contact Board of Bar Examiners Executive Director Marilyn Wellington at (617) 482-4466 for more information regarding this process."

Massachusetts allows all attorneys to submit applications for admission on motion. Admission is not based on reciprocity or limited to candidates from specific jurisdictions. However, the current rules for admission request proof that an applicant has been actively engaged in the practice of law for five out of the past seven years immediately preceding the application. Additionally, the applicant must have graduated from a law school that is ABA-approved or authorized by a state statute to grant the degree of bachelor of laws or J.D. at the time of graduation. However, the Board of Bar Examiners considers applications on a case-by-case basis and the new policy encourages them to accommodate the hardships faced by military spouse attorneys.

While there is no specific ruling in place regarding military spouse attorneys, the Supreme Judicial Court directed this effort and, recognizing the numerous employment barriers faced by attorney spouses of members of the military, encourages the Board of Bar Examiners to work with military spouses to ensure that the bar admission process proceeds in an expedited manner that addresses their unique challenges to the greatest possible extent.

Chief Justice Fernande Duffly said, "The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognizes the unique circumstances faced by military spouse attorneys, who must move frequently with their families in support of our nation's defense. The Court supports the flexibility and accommodations that the Board of Bar Examiners makes available to these attorneys in the bar application process when their military duty brings them to Massachusetts."

Military spouse attorneys are thrilled at the initiative shown by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Board of Bar Examiners. "Creating a path for the practice of law to be compatible with the military lifestyle sets an example for the entire legal profession and demonstrates meaningful support for military families," said Rachel Winkler, president of the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN), a group focused on eliminating barriers to the practice of law for military spouse attorneys. MSJDN is made up of over 1,000 active duty, retired and reserve spouses from all branches of the United States' military, as well as other attorneys and community members who support their mission to improve the lives of military families. MSJDN applauds the new policy and looks forward to working with the Supreme Judicial Court and the Bar Examiners on a rule that fully addresses licensing issues for military spouse attorneys in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Jamison is the communications director for the Military Spouse JD Network. She currently resides in Jacksonville, FL, with her husband, a Navy helicopter pilot. She runs her own practice and is of-counsel to the Law Office of Thomas Carter. She is admitted to the bar in both California and Washington. She volunteers her time with MSJDN, the local legal aid office, and Homefront Rising, an organization that encourages and trains military spouses to run for office.