New state rule opens doors for Virginia military spouse attorneys
June 9, 2014
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - The Virginia Supreme Court has adopted a rule easing licensing requirements for attorneys who move to the Commonwealth and the National Capital Region with spouses in the military.
Adopted in May, Rule 1A:8 allows these lawyers to practice in Virginia without taking the Commonwealth's bar exam while their spouse is on military assignment in Virginia or Washington, D.C., so long as they work under the supervision of a licensed Virginia attorney. They must also have passed a bar exam and be active with the bar association in at least one state. The rule will take effect July 1.
The Constitution of Virginia authorizes Virginia's supreme court to make rules governing practice and procedures used in state courts. The Military Spouse J.D. Network, an organization formed three years ago to advocate for eased licensing for lawyers who are military spouses, proposed the new rule.
"The Virginia rule basically allows more practice flexibility for military spouses who are licensed in states other than Virginia," said Military Spouse J.D. Network President Rachel Winkler, overseer of the group's efforts to change state rules.
Service members move frequently, but passing the bar exam can be so time-consuming that it becomes difficult for lawyers to continue practicing law when their spouse in the military has to move again at the end of a two or three-year assignment, Winkler said.
She said between preparatory courses, infrequent test dates and long waits for test results, passing the bar exam can be a year-long process and cost thousands of dollars. And once a military spouse passes, they're typically still only able to work for a year or two before they have to move again.
"We really kind of fall in this gap that eliminates our ability to practice," she said. "It hinders our ability to get employed, it hurts our careers."
Virginia is the seventh state to adopt such a rule, along with Idaho, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois and South Dakota.
Winkler said the Military Spouse J.D. Network began advocating for a change to Virginia's rules about two years ago.
"Based on an informal survey last June, we identified nearly four dozen military spouse attorneys who are Virginia bar members, but some no longer live and practice in Virginia," Winkler wrote in an email. "We also identified more than a dozen spouses who would have benefited from [Virginia]'s rule. While their service member spouse was stationed in [Virginia] and they are barred in another state, they had not taken the [Virginia] bar or sought reciprocity admission.
"Some members cited time and cost and some also noted that they could not meet time in practice requirements due to gaps in their employment history which often stem from frequent moves accompanying the service member spouse. The new [Virginia] rule will help these families."
Winkler said her organization had help and support from the Virginia Bar Association and leaders within the Commonwealth's legal community.
"It was a community effort and we're really grateful for their support," she said.