Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Erin Ramey to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
I fell in love with a Marine, and that is how it began.
We were high school sweethearts and attended college together. Shortly after 9/11, he spoke with a recruiter and changed career paths. While I was studying law, he was in flight school. On Memorial Day weekend 2008, we tied the knot in our hometown — the holiday weekend gave us an extra day of military leave, and it was the perfect window of time between taking 3L spring semester finals and beginning the six-week BARBRI prep course. Our wedding day, although the date was strategically planned in true military fashion, was a very special and significant day to us, our friends, and family. It was also the day that I made a commitment to my husband … and with that promise came a promise to serve our country by his side.
Since 2008, we have moved over seven times in 13 years while growing our family (which is typical for this lifestyle), adventuring around the world, and making wonderful military friendships. What I did not know was how challenging it would be as a spouse who wanted to work as an attorney. The more that I share my story, the more I learn that my story is not unique from other milspouse attorneys and professionals.
While not wearing a uniform, military spouses work tirelessly behind the scenes keeping the military family unit together, resilient and strong, while the active duty servicemember serves, ready to fight anytime around the globe, on land, in air, on the sea, in space, and even in cyberspace.
With all the moves comes frequent interruptions in employment, the loss of job tenure, and limited promotion opportunities — sometimes starting at the bottom, if you are fortunate enough to find a firm willing to hire you. While 85% of military spouse attorneys hold an active law license, only 70% of those who work have a job requiring a law license.
An active duty servicemember attorney, on the other hand, moves to advance his or her career and earns a steady income. Military spouse attorneys bear the financial and administrative burden of meeting state (or multiple state) licensing requirements during frequent periods of un- and underemployment. After each move, this includes time and money — bar application fees, preparing documentation, waiting for licensure, procuring a mentoring attorney (as many states require), earning additional continuing education credits, searching for employment, securing childcare in a new location, and paying a substantial amount in annual licensing dues in other states.
These stresses are in addition to the routine military move tasks of packing and unpacking, turning off and on utilities, applying for passports if heading overseas, finding schools for the children, researching the best health-care providers (don’t forget the vet, too), seeking out new friends and neighbors, and locating the best take-out food and grocery stores. It all can add up and affect the quality of life of military spouse attorneys, placing a strain on the emotional and financial well-being of the military family, which may even ultimately prompt the servicemember to exit the military. The military loses a significant amount of its extremely well-trained members due to the extensive barriers to spouse careers.
This issue is so critical to military retention that the Department of Defense and White House have launched initiatives such as Joining Forces to address issues of military spouse unemployment, professional licensing, and interstate compacts, ensuring that our active duty servicemembers no longer have to choose between serving our nation and their families. The past five years have revealed great progress when it comes to license reciprocity, allowing military spouses, if qualified, the ability to temporarily work in other states without long waits for certification. However, there is still much work to do in continuing to ease burdens placed on the military family as they move so frequently.
It is promising to see the Kentucky Bar Association’s (KBA) recognition of these unique challenges that military spouse attorneys face. KBA recently proposed an amendment to Kentucky Supreme Court Rule 3.04 to include waiver of dues for military spouse attorneys licensed in Kentucky. Many state bar associations waive dues for active-duty military attorneys, but this benefit for military spouses is the first of its kind. The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear public comments regarding this amendment in mid-May. While waiving dues for military spouse attorneys in Kentucky isn’t a magic fix for all the challenges military families face, it is a step in the right direction to show we support our military families.
Call to Action: if you would like to help support this rule change, please write an email with your comments and send it to email@example.com by Monday, May 10. Helping ease burdens, such as waiving annual bar dues for military spouses, helps the military family focus on the mission at hand in protecting our country.
Erin Ramey is from the tri-state area of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia and is a Partner at Parlatore Law Group, a new cloud-based law firm. She is a member of Mothers Esquire and Military Spouse J.D. Network. She is also a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught for Department of Defense Education Activities and Ashford University and also served as the USO Pacific Region Operations Manager. She is passionate about advocating for military families and veterans and building community wherever the military takes her to create positive change.