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The Military Spouse JD Network is an international network of legal professionals improving the lives of military families. We advocate for licensing accommodations for military spouses, including bar membership without additional examination.
It is PCS season in my house, again (sigh). We move every 2 years, which puts us in an almost constant cycle of either planning for or recovering from a PCS. Right now I am in what I like to refer to as PCS purgatory. You know that time, after your spouse has sent in their “dream sheet” (which, because you are a lawyer was discussed, debated, reviewed and then re-reviewed, taking every possible contingency into consideration) when you are waiting to hear where you are moving.
I have a theory that the same qualities that make us the kick-ass lawyers and law students can make military-spouse life particularly challenging. We were often drawn to the law because we are problem-solvers. We identify multiple solutions, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each, and then help our clients navigate the way forward. We are planners by nature.
Erin Noble, MSJDN Governance Director
But as a military spouse, so much of what happens is hard to plan. There are the happy surprises. Your souse gets a long-shot promotion that is great for her career but means she will be gone more than she is home, or your spouse is chosen for a special assignment that is a great opportunity, but means relocating your family (and career) every year for the next three years in a row (this one actually happened to me). And of course you know the unhappy surprises, the deployments, the injuries, the downsizing or right sizing or whatever the terminology of the day is for a career ended before your spouse would have chosen.
Dealing with the unknowns is tough for all military spouses. But if you are a planner by nature like so many military spouse attorneys, it can be even more difficult. My last PCS was really hard. We were given an assignment, later told the assignment changed, and then later still told the assignment changed again. Not an unusual occurrence for the military, and also no one’s fault. But it put us way behind everyone else in finding out where we were moving (oh how Facebook tortures you in times like these when it seems like every single person you know is announcing where they are moving while you are still in PCS-purgatory). It put me way behind in my normal PCS planning. I was leaving a job that I loved with no prospects. I was leaving a community where my family had deep connections. I am sure this all too familiar to my fellow MSJDNers.
My instinct was to grab a tub of ice cream, binge watch my favorite show, and lament the sorry state of affairs, and that was alright, but only for a little while. You are allowed to be sad (I will neither confirm nor deny that I shed a tear leaving my beloved office the last day).
But then you need to do what you do for your clients, look at all the options, research, weigh the pros and cons, and figure out the best way forward. Your lawyer skills are a valuable asset in times like these (I am looking at you PCS notebooks, color coded, expertly tabbed, containing exhaustive research). Put those skills to use at home.
Also, get connected to a supportive community. MSJDN has been that for me. Consider volunteering. It can be a nice break to focus your problem-solving skills on helping others (and if you are looking for a place to put those lawyering skills to work, MSJDN is always looking for volunteers, and nominations for Board members are coming up soon).
A transition often means leaving things behind. But transition can also present opportunities that you would not have even been looking for except the military spouse life shaking things up. I entered this round of PCS purgatory in a fantastic job that, in what has turned out to be my very own military spouse attorney miracle, will move with me when I move this summer. I would never have found this position without our last (much dreaded) PCS. It could be a chance to travel, spend more time with family, pick up a new skill, or continue your education. It is not possible to know or to plan for everything that is waiting for you on the other side of a transition. I believe that military spouse attorneys have just the skills necessary to identify the opportunities that each change presents and strategize how to leverage those opportunities for when military spouse life inevitably changes things again.
Five of our incredible MSJDN members are among the newly announced nominees for the 2018 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. Join us in congratulating Stefany Buckley, Bobbie Collins, Kaiti Smith Dean, Tricia Petek, and Anna Blanch Rabe on their nominations highlighting their professional accomplishments and service to their communities. The first round of voting lasts for only until February 9th, so don’t wait!
Stefany Buckley: Stefany is a National Guard spouse and law student from Connecticut, who volunteers as the MSJDN Social Media Manager. She is also currently the president of the Quinnipiac University School of Law Military Law Society and uses her legal skills to serve veterans at the QUSL Veterans Law Clinic, helping with their disability claims and discharge upgrades. She previously served on the Mental Health Community Advisory Board at the West Haven VA as a Veterans Advocate and lent her skills to Habitat for Humanity and the Connecticut Innocence Project. Stefany was welcomed to military spouse life last year as she balanced law school, her work and volunteer duties, her wedding, and her husband’s mobilization to Texas to assist with the Hurricane Harvey recovery.
Bobbie Collins: Bobbie is a business and real estate litigator with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Chrisie LLP in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is married to an Air Force Reservist and the mom of three. Bobbie served as Pro Bono General Counsel to the Kirtland Spouses Clubs and was honored by the club with an educational scholarship in her name in recognition of her pro bono legal services. In September 2017, she was appointed as the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division’s Liaison to the Committee on Legal Assistance to Military Personnel. Bobbie is also the co-chair of MSJDN’s New Mexico state licensing team and spearheads a Military Spouse Club Project Team within MSJDN’s pro bono program to provide information and eventually, pro bono legal services, to military spouse clubs on military installations across the world regarding entity formation, governance, state, federal, installation, and operational requirements. She was honored by MSJDN with the 2017 Volunteer Service Award.
Kaitlin Smith Dean: Kaitlin is a National Guard spouse living in Kentucky, where she hopes to one day run for Judge. Kaitlin was an integral part of the successful MSJDN state licensing efforts in Kentucky. A graduate of Baylor University and University of Kansas School of Law, she has a passion for innocence work. She served as the Student Director of the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies Clinic. During her time with the Innocence Project, she authored a Motion to Compel DNA Testing on the Floyd Bledsoe case and had the privilege of walking alongside him as he stepped out of the Jefferson County District Courthouse in Oskaloosa, Kansas, as a free man.
Tricia Petek: Tricia is an Air Force spouse currently enjoying an overseas tour out of Stuttgart, Germany, where she volunteers with a spouses’ organization and the parent-teacher association at her son’s school. She puts her talents as an attorney and leader to work serving those in need as well. Tricia serves as the Pro Bono Director for MSJDN, supporting Gold Star families with legal needs through Justice for Military Families and overseeing other pro bono programs for the military community. Before relocating to Germany with her servicemember, she served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for young children in dependency and neglect cases. She was previously recognized with the Florence World Memorial Award for demonstrating a commitment to the legal representation of low income people.
Anna Blanch Rabe: Anna is an Air Force spouse and veteran of the Australian Army. She serves as the co-chair of the MSJDN New Mexico state licensing team and as the founding lead for the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network at Holloman AFB. She was appointed to the Housing Authority Board by the Mayor of the City of Alamogordo in 2017 for a two-year term, serves on the Board of Directors of Thrive in Southern New Mexico, and is a member of the Rotary Club of White Sands. Anna is also proud to serve as a key spouse mentor for 9ATKS. She was recently named the Air Combat Command nominee for the 2018 USAF Joan Orr Spouse of the Year. Anna is the Founder and CEO of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, a communications consultancy specializing in shaping and executing the communications strategies of law firms, social impact businesses and non-profits.
Since 2008, the Military Spouse Magazine has selected a Military Spouse of the Year. Nominations are accepted from the public and the winner is chosen through online voting and a judges’ panel. The first of three voting rounds occurs over just a few days in February. Voting culminates with the announcement of the Military Spouse of the Year at an awards luncheon in D.C. in the spring.
The first round of voting ends on February 9th, so don’t wait! Vote now to support a military spouse attorney!
“So I can just marry someone in the military and I don’t have to take the bar?”
“I took the bar here, so should everyone else.”
“Just do pro bono.”
“You can be a realtor while you live here.”
These are some of the things that have been said to me over the years by leaders in the legal community as I’ve advocated on behalf of licensing changes for military spouse attorneys. Not very encouraging, right? I know many of you have encountered similar sentiments while networking and applying for jobs in a new community. It’s pretty soul-crushing to hear these things (no matter how well-meaning the speaker might be) from our colleagues in the legal profession.
I don’t want to paint a completely negative picture – I’ve also witnessed incredible support and understanding from many leaders in our profession. If it wasn’t for the boldness of some of these leaders, we wouldn’t have our state licensing successes (27 jurisdictions and counting!). And we wouldn’t have a long list of supportive employers. But what I want to talk about in this month’s letter is the courage of military spouse attorneys.
Courage is defined as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” It takes courage to conquer the bar exam for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th time. It takes courage to continue putting yourself out there for jobs after repeated rejections. It takes courage to be the new kid in town (again), yet still rally to introduce yourself to the local attorneys at a bar association event. It takes courage to walk in to a room full of strangers to advocate for military spouse attorney licensing. It takes courage to survive yet another deployment while balancing child care with the demands of a legal job.
I’ve witnessed MSJDN members do all of the above. While we might shy away from the word, military spouse attorneys are a courageous group! Although we face many of the same challenges as our colleagues, the difficulty is amplified by relocations, distance from family, training and deployment schedules, and the other unique aspects of military life. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve as the leader of an organization full of such inspiring, versatile, and resilient people who refuse to allow the negativity of some to keep us from pursuing our chosen profession.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to connect with other amazing MSJDN members, be sure to check out the calendar. There are more than 10 events over the next fews months, scheduled from California to Rhode Island and many places in between. If you don’t see something on calendar near you, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for help organizing a gathering in your neighborhood.
Finally, be sure to save the date for our Annual Reception on May 17th in D.C. It’s a fabulous evening dedicated to celebrating military spouse attorneys and our supporters. Tickets will be coming soon!
Interested in exercising your leadership skills and making a difference for military families? Have you always wanted to work for a non-profit? Consider serving on MSJDN’s Board of Directors and help shape the future of our organization. Nominations for open positions are due March 9, 2018, and can be submitted through this form. The new Board of Directors will be announced in May 2018.
Join MSJDN leadership on Feb. 16 at 12 pm EST to learn more about what it means to serve on the MSJDN Board and ask any questions about the nominations process. Register for the Q&A here.
MSJDN’s Board consists of officer and director roles, as well as at-large members. Open officer and director positions this term are:
President-Elect (3-year term),
Treasurer-Elect (2-year term)
Communications Director (2-year term),
State Licensing Director (2-year term), and
Governance Director (2-year term).
At-Large Members serve for one year and are filled as needed.
Expectations for MSJDN Board members include:
Lead and be active participants on one or more of MSJDN’s committees;
Attend the Annual Reception and/or Making the Right Moves; and
Readily assist in other matters that may arise during the course of the service year.
To be considered for appointment to MSJDN’s Board of Directors, a candidate must (1) be a member in good standing; (2) be actively involved in the organization; and (3) demonstrate the experience and skills necessary to serve as part of the organization’s leadership. All applicants must complete and submit their nomination no later than March 9, 2018, to be considered for a position.
Board applications will be considered by the 2018-2019 Nominations Committee, which consists of the President-Elect and the Immediate Past President, as well as 3 MSJDN members. Interviews will be conducted by the Committee upon close of the application period. Candidates recommended by the Nominations Committee must be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of MSJDN’s current Board.
Not sure if serving on the Board is for you? Stay tuned for information on other opportunities on MSJDN committees and projects. Build your resumé while serving your fellow milspouse attorneys and other military families.
A week after I married my husband, I moved out of our sunny apartment into a tiny basement apartment about three hours away from him. This was not the result of any drama; this is not that sort of article. This move had been planned for months. I was going to law school.
I met my husband while I was in the U.S. Navy. He stayed in and I got out. I knew I wanted to go to law school, but how do you choose a law school when you don’t know where your spouse is going to be during the next three years? Or if we are being honest, for the next fifteen years? Since I graduated from law school in 2011, we have moved three times and we are getting ready for a fourth move. I like to think this is about average for military families. However, to civilians, especially those in the legal community, this is an unfathomable amount of moving. When I sought advice from the career office at my university and other attorneys, they said to go to the best law school I could afford in the location I wanted to practice.
I informally polled military spouse attorneys on what they considered or should have considered when choosing a law school. Cost was the number one reply. This is not surprising to me at all. One of the hardest parts of being a military spouse is getting and keeping a job. If you don’t have a job then it becomes a lot harder to pay back any loans you take out to cover the cost of law school. So keeping costs down is very important to any law student, but especially military spouses.
How do you keep costs down? Which schools will give you scholarships or in-state tuition? How can you keep living expenses down? For me, moving away from my husband a week after our wedding kept costs down because it was a location that my husband could move to during my 2L year. And to be honest most of my 1L year was spent in the library. It was probably good for my grades that all I was going home to was a cold, dark apartment.
The next biggest factor in choosing a law school for most military spouses was employability. Basically how easy will it be to get a job after you graduate? There are a lot of things that go into this judgment. First, what is the school’s bar passage rate? If you can’t pass the bar it is going to be hard to get a job. Second, what kind of name recognition and alumni network does the school have? Unless you are planning to live separately from your spouse, you probably will not be staying in the same region as your law school. It is hugely helpful in finding a job when people recognize your school name and even better when there are active alumni in the area with whom you can network. School rankings are also important, and if you are interested in a certain area of law, the ranking of a specific program (like tax law) could be very important.
One of the responses to my informal poll was that “[choosing a law school] was a balancing act of getting the highest scholarship etc. with going to a school that will help you get a job in the future.” This is good advice for anyone choosing a law school, but there are uncertainties that make this balancing act a little harder for military spouses. After applying to over 20 law schools, I ended up being torn between a relatively new law school that was very highly thought of in environmental law circles, but otherwise lower ranked, and a nationally recognized school with good rankings. The lower ranked school offered me a very good scholarship, but in the end I chose the higher ranked school. I have no regrets. While I am still very interested in environmental law, I have not gotten a job in that field and I am not sure if I ever will. Everywhere I have lived people have recognized my law school, and that has helped me get a foot in the door to many interviews.
Hopefully you are still excited about going to law school. And you should be! I really enjoyed law school. After doing all of this analysis, I believe wholeheartedly that you should pick a law school you like. You are going to spend a lot of time there and you probably will end up with some student loans that you will be repaying for years. So it needs to be worth it.
Back in 2012, when my Army family moved to Fort Campbell, KY, I tried to volunteer at the post legal office — I was interested in using my legal skills to serve my military community. I had also just served as a Legal Assistance Attorney at our previous duty station, so I knew I had the skills necessary.
Imagine my surprise when I was told that Army policy required that volunteers offering legal services be licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction where the legal office was located. Checking back in with my fellow MSJDN members in our private discussion group, I learned this was an issue faced my more than just me — member after member recounted stories of being unable to volunteer due to this policy. MSJDN, along with individual attorneys, reached out to the Army Office of The Judge Advocate General (OTJAG)Legal Assistance Policy Division, as well as the ABA Legal Assistance for Military Personnel Committee, to ask for a change.
Happily, this month the Army OTJAG Legal Assistance Policy Division announced a new policy memorandum, eliminating the Army requirement for Legal Assistance volunteer attorneys to be barred in the jurisdiction where the volunteer legal services are to be performed. Legal Assistance volunteer attorneys must still be qualified by The Judge Advocate General (TJAG), but the end result is great news for military spouse attorneys looking to volunteer in Army Legal Assistance offices (in an attorney role) without having to take another bar exam.
Thank you from MSJDN to everyone who shared their story, and to the Army OTJAG Legal Assistance Policy Division, who made a common-sense change that will provide military spouse attorneys an opportunity to serve their community.
On November 15, 2017, the military and legal communities came together for a night of networking and connections. Sponsored by Mayer Brown and White & Case, MSJDN was thrilled to work with Hiring Our Heroes, the American Bar Association, and Nestle to host approximately 80 jobs seekers and supportive employers at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
The evening opened with comments from Vice Admiral Nanette DiRenzi, USN (ret.), Brigadier General Marilyn Chiafullo, USA, and John Newby, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. The speakers shared their insights as servicemembers and civilian job seekers, and encouraged employers to recognize the leadership, work ethic, and problem-solving skills veterans and servicemembers bring to the workplace.
The ABA’s toolkit for transitioning military lawyers was also featured during the evening’s program. In addition to a LinkedIn group connecting job seekers and supporters, the ABA’s website hosts a roadmap to civilian employment, including sample resumes and cover letters, tips on compensation and negotiations, and much more.
MSJDN is encouraged by this event and the growing support for veterans and family members seeking to establish and expand careers in the legal profession. While 27 jurisdictions have enacted licensing accommodations for military spouse attorneys, the challenge of identifying supportive employers continues. The Military Legal Networking Reception highlights those employers eager to embrace the unique skills of veterans and military spouses and encourages other employers to tap into this talented portion of the workforce.
This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to take part in an event that embodied the spirit of our network and brought together military spouse attorneys from across the country for a day of camaraderie and connections. MSJDNer Rebecca Bresnik invited her fellow military spouse attorneys to tour the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Members traveled from various corners of the country to participate in the educational tour of the agency’s facility and learn about NASA’s work on and off our planet.
The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to peek behind the scenes at NASA was incredible. We were honored to hear from Flight Director Royce Renfrew, toured current and historic mission control centers, and explored a mockup of the International Space Station with two of its previous residents! But equally as awesome as this educational experience was the special time for military spouse attorneys to gather and connect with each other.
Rebecca graciously hosted the MSJDN attendees for dinner at her beautiful home following the tour. We dined together, laughed together, celebrated a birthday, toasted to a recent bar passage, and commiserated with a future bar taker. We stayed up late, sharing our frustrations with career roadblocks and talking about the challenges of deployments, solo parenting, PCSing, and job hunting. It was one of those special days – I was exhausted from my early morning flight, but I was energized by the positivity, good humor, and all-around awesomeness of my companions.
What was most encouraging was the common theme in our discussions: resiliency. Whether it is mastering the bar with a deployed spouse, planning for a PCS and yet another job hunt, or balancing work and solo parenting through a deployment- we have all faced the challenges brought to us as legal professionals and military spouses. We’ve stared down those challenges and overcome them, with each new day, each new duty station, and each new job. MSJDN exists because we have collectively decided that those challenges won’t hold us down. The Houston gathering was a wonderful reminder of that resiliency and the power of this network to provide encouragement and support to each other.
On that note, I would be remiss if I did not encourage you all to take part in the 2018 MSJDN Mentoring Program! If you are in need of advice when it comes to your career path or tackling military life, this program provides the opportunity to connect with other military spouse attorneys who have walked the walk. Apply by January 15th as a mentor and/or a mentee. Contact Lindsay Savage at email@example.com with any questions.
In closing, as we enter the final weeks of 2017, I want to say thank you to all MSJDNers. Your participation in our online forums, your volunteer hours in support of MSJDN programs, your dues, your stories, and your energy make it possible for MSJDN to succeed as a bar association for military spouse attorneys. We look forward to another year of progress in 2018!
The heart contracts upon hearing the moving stories of spouses and families who find themselves in the position of caregiver to a loved one who has been wounded in service to our country. These “Hidden Heroes” often feel adrift in a confusing sea of emotions, medical care, resources, and legal issues. On November 13, 2017, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs presented the 2nd Annual National Convening, “The Military Caregiver Journey.” The conference provided an opportunity for hundreds of caregivers and representatives of organizations supporting them to gather and hear each other’s stories in an effort to understand the needs of caregivers at each stage of their experience. MSJDN President Libby Jamison and I were privileged to attend this event in D.C.; we hoped to explore if there were opportunities for MSJDN and Justice for Military Families members to provide assistance to caregivers and their families. MSJDN member Pat Ochan was also participating in the day’s activities in her role as an Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow.
Former Senator Elizabeth Dole and Secretary David Shulkin announced the joint “Campaign for Inclusive Care” in their opening remarks. This program seeks to incorporate caregivers into the medical team for veterans and recognize the important role they play in the care and well-being of patients. In order to understand how agencies and organizations can best support caregivers, RAND Corporation has drafted a literal working map of the process that a caregiver undergoes when faced with the ongoing challenge of responsibility for a loved one. One focus of the convening was for caregivers to critique the map, so that it could best represent their experience and subsequently allow others to effectively support them.
Pat Ochan weighs in during a breakout session
In breakout sessions caregivers and representatives worked to identify needs at different stages of the experience. Clearly caregivers need many things: recognition and understanding, emotional support, time for themselves, physical assistance and financial help. However, repeatedly, caregivers mentioned craving communication and advocacy throughout their entire journey. Often caregivers no longer have access to the JAG, however, they need advocates with specialized knowledge.They need to know what benefits their service member is entitled to in a timely manner. They often require assistance with navigating the legal conundrums that can arise in specific situations. Medical, legal and financial planning documents can be either a roadblock when lacking, or a gateway when properly prepared. For caregivers, guardianship and estate planning are more complicated issues. Effective case management at the VA may be a problem. With advocacy, benefits that might have been initially denied might be eligible for appeal. Patently, there may be a wealth of opportunity for MSJDN members to assist caregivers through national or local organizations or in a pro bono capacity, when possible, through JMF or private firms.
Laura Bush addressing the summit
Former First Lady and keynote speaker Laura Bush summed up the tone of the day by asking,“How can we make caregivers’ lives better?” These men and women are as selfless as the military veterans for whom they care. They provide services that have real financial worth to our country at a cost to themselves. As MSJDN and JMF continue to explore ways to ease the experience of these deserving people, we encourage members who feel compelled to seek out ways to assist caregivers through their own avenues or local organizations.