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Nebraska Attorney Licensing Initiative

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Military families are an integral part of every community. Despite being uprooted every few years, they connect to their communities and make great neighbors. But military spouses often struggle to find work to support their families, and those with jobs requiring state-specific licensing have it that much worse. Attorneys are included, as attorney licensure is state-specific, and is driven by state licensing requirements. There is no federal attorney licensure or examination. 

As a result, traditionally, attorneys who move from one state to another must re-take bar examinations, professional responsibility examinations, and/or show that they have been actively engaged in the practice of law in recent years in order to become licensed to practice law in the state.  As you can imagine, this makes it extremely challenging for military spouse attorneys to continue their careers as they move frequently from state-to-state (and overseas) with their military spouses.  

The Military Spouse J.D. Network, or MSJDN, is a national organization of military spouse attorneys who support each other in facing challenges unique to military spouse attorneys, such as licensing and employment barriers. Since 2011, MSJDN has been working on state-by-state initiatives to pass rules to permit military spouse attorneys to practice law in the state in which they are living as a result of their spouse's military assignments, without the more stringent requirements that traditionally exist for attorneys moving into a new state. So far, 26 states have adopted such a rule, modeled after the MSJDN Model Rule.

A pivotal decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court could make finding a job a little bit easier for military spouse attorneys, and they are asking for their community’s support to get it done right. The court has submitted a proposal that would offer expedited processing and a significantly reduced fee for military spouses. However, the proposal does not amend or alleviate the underlying licensing qualifications. Military spouse attorneys seeking licensure in Nebraska must still qualify under the existing attorney admission rules. 

While MSJDN celebrates the support provided by the pending proposal, the Model Rule for Admission of Military Spouse Attorneys (model rule) is needed to truly meet the unique needs of military spouse attorneys. Military spouse attorneys must meet one of two requirements, in order to obtain licensure under Nebraska's current rule: 

1.  The military spouse must have been actively and substantially engaged in the practice of law for three of the last five years upon application; or

2.  The military spouse must provide a qualifying score no more than three years old from another jurisdiction equivalent to the Nebraska bar examination.  

Under this proposal, all other military spouse attorneys would be left without accommodation and required to take an additional bar exam (offered only twice a year) before they can be employed as attorneys. 

Military spouse attorneys are often unable to qualify under time-based rules because frequent relocations, overseas tours, remote assignments, and similar licensing barriers in other states make it difficult to accrue the required years in practice. And while some are often admitted in multiple states, they may not have a recent enough bar exam score to utilize for admission. Adoption of the MSJDN model rule would remove these barriers and provide support for all military spouses in the legal profession.

Military families move often - 79 percent have moved in the past five years; 50 percent have moved twice in the same time span.  Licensure after each move can take up to a year and cost thousands of dollars. And licensure is only half the battle – the job search is its own struggle!  Repeating this process every few years, often with little notice of the move, proves challenging even for the most determined military spouse attorney. These barriers keep qualified and capable spouses out of the workforce, at significant cost to the economy as well as the families already facing financial stress due to law school loans and lost income, all while bearing the burden of deployments and separation. The MSJDN model rule helps reduce these barriers by allowing admission for an attorney already admitted and in good standing in another jurisdiction who is also a dependent spouse of a U.S. service member on active duty orders in Nebraska.

Additionally, the MSJDN model rule provides for a temporary license rather than permanent admission. Some military spouse attorneys are licensed in as many as six different jurisdictions, incurring substantial annual licensing fees along with the costs of continuing education. A temporary license affords military spouses the opportunity to continue their careers while in the jurisdiction, but does not place a financial burden on the spouse after leaving the state to continue serving alongside their service member at the next duty station. 

From now until December 1, anyone and everyone can submit a comment to the Nebraska Supreme Court about the MSJDN Model Rule. Individuals can do this in writing the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, P.O. Box 98910, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-8910; or via email to ashley.nolte@nebraska.gov.

*Note – Maj. Walter previously served at the 55th Wing Legal office as an Air Force Reserve assistant staff judge advocate.