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In this episode, Josie Beets explains why military spouses who are lawyers should be able to get a license to practice law without taking the bar exam over and over again.

Josie Beets

Josie Beets is President of the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN), a bar association for military spouses who are lawyers. MSJDN advocates for law licensing accommodations for military spouses. Josie has lived in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia with her active duty Army spouse and has worked for two state bar associations, the US Army, a rural legal aid practice, a district court judge, and the executive branch of the US government. She was once featured in People Magazine for her post-Katrina criminal justice volunteer work.

You can follow Josie on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thanks to Ruby Receptionists, Spotlight Branding, and FreshBooks for sponsoring this episode!

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Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to the Lawyerist podcast with Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Each week Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Now, here are Sam and Aaron.

Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.

Aaron Street: And I’m Aaron Street, and this is Episode 115 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re talking with Josie Beets from the Military Spouse JD Network about lawyer licensing and military spouses.

Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by FreshBooks, which is ridiculously easy to use and packed with powerful features. Try it now at FreshBooks.com/Lawyerist and enter Lawyerist in the How Did You Hear About Us? section.

Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Ruby Receptionists and its smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit callRuby.com/Lawyerist to get a risk-free trial with Ruby.

Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is also sponsored by Spotlight Branding, which wants you to know that having a new website designed for your law firm doesn’t have to suck. Spotlight Branding prides itself on great communication, meeting deadlines, and getting results. Text the word website to 66866 in order to receive a free website appraisal worksheet.

Aaron, one of the things that we talked about today, which you and I talked about a couple weeks ago is the clunkiness of having a 50 state licensing scheme. You’ll hear all about why that causes that trouble for military spouses, so I don’t want to get into that too much, but as I was talking to Josie it sort of made me revisit this question that I think we all have about, why is it so hard for lawyers to move from one state to the next? Doctors, they still can fix people over state lines. Nothing’s changed, but we have this idea that just because you’re a lawyer in California it doesn’t mean that you can be a lawyer in Ohio competently.

Aaron Street: I see a few separate issues there. Medicine and law are different in that how you heal you broke arm is not different in Iowa than Minnesota, whereas the difference between what an appropriate employment law contract looks actually does vary from state to state. Science crosses borders. At the moment, state-based laws, by definition, do not.

Sam Glover: Fair enough. I guess I just want to undermine our entire our system of government.

Aaron Street: That part, so whether we want to do away with states and just have a federal government, I guess is a conversation for another time. I think the issue here is complex in a couple of different ways. Of course, if we have different state laws then there should at least be some mechanism for distinguishing between people who understand the laws of the state they should be practicing in versus a state where they don’t have familiarity with those laws, and therefore, aren’t appropriate to practice laws advising people about laws they aren’t familiar with. That makes sense to me.

How we test to that and judge that, I think is becoming crazier and crazier as the internet, as people’s jobs change over time. We were talking two episodes ago about waive-in rules and how they relate to part-time practice and flexible workplaces in that it is unclear why competency is related to the nature of the time of your practice. I think it’s also fair to say that our existing system doesn’t necessarily actually do a great job of testing whether you are intimately familiar with the laws of your state.

Sam Glover: Right, so here’s the example that comes to my mind is most first-year lawyers who try to litigate in Minnesota make the same mistake because the civil rules say that a response to a Motion for Summary Judgment is due within a certain amount of time, and then there’s this whole separate set of rules called the general rules of practice for District Court, and they have a different timeline. Almost everybody files it wrong the first time unless somebody’s looking over their shoulder, correcting them. I think the rules have been evened out now, but when I was practicing at first that was the thing, and I made that mistake, and it got pointed out to me. The thing is, I was already licensed at that point.

Aaron Street: Right. You were already deemed competent.

Sam Glover: Yeah, the licensing scheme did nothing to protect the Minnesota consumers from my inability to reconcile those two things. There’s no mentoring requirement. I could’ve gone out and made that mistake on my own. Nothing about the licensing scheme protected from that kind of state specific stuff, and I suspect that it almost never does.

Aaron Street: Well, not to mention even to the degree you think a bar exam is a good measure of competence, which I think we can all agree is not the case.

Sam Glover: Right.

Aaron Street: But even if it is, it doesn’t actually test on every area of law, and therefore, if you want to practice insurance law even though your state’s insurance regime wasn’t mentioned on the bar exam, you’re competent to practice insurance law in your state. Even if we think bar exams are good, there are plenty of areas of law that aren’t tested on it and yet, we’re still deemed competent to practice those.

Sam Glover: Yeah, it’s that ongoing you’re kind of confident, but there’s a little bit of a wink and nod. You probably shouldn’t be trusted with anything yet.

Aaron Street: This is stuff we all know. We’ve all thought about how the bar exam is a bad way, or at least an imperfect way to assess whether people are competent to practice law, but then you’ve also got these other trends around part-time practice, about maternity leave, about military spouses. There are movements in a number states to think about alternative licensure arrangements. Washington state has it’s LLLT. Here in Minnesota, there is an active task force to assess whether Minnesota might pursue LLLT and other potential limited scope licensing arrangements here or in other states. I think all of these indicate trends toward us needing to rethink this model and adapt to change better. Of course, that is precisely what the model is really not meant to be able to do.

Sam Glover: Well, I think the core of that is, to what extent are we trying to protect consumers and to what extent are we trying to protect lawyers? Most bar associations have a little bit of a conflict there. I was in Montreal recently, and I was talking to some of the lawyers there. I was brought there to speak by the Young Bar of Montreal. They put on an awesome show, by the way. I’ve had the most fun that I’ve ever had at a happy hour at a conference.

Aaron Street: Even though everyone was speaking French to you or because everyone was speaking French?

Sam Glover: No, they were all speaking English to me. They called it the cocktail, which was charming. “Well you be joining us for the cocktail?” “Of course, I’ll be joining you for happy hour.” “No, the cocktail.” There were confetti cannons and a DJ, and like 350 people at the cocktail.

Aaron Street: That is amazing.

Sam Glover: Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was the most fun thing I’ve ever been to at a lawyer conference. Anyway, I was talking to them about the bar association there, and I’ve read about the different Canadian regulatory scheme, but I hadn’t really thought about it in this way. There the bar association, at least from the lawyers’ perspective, does not represent lawyers. There the bar association represents consumers to the extent where one lawyer I was talking about was basically like, “No, if I ever see the bar association’s phone number pop up on my caller ID I’m going to start trembling because something’s gone wrong.” You don’t interact with the bar association. They are almost adverse to lawyers, and you have to have different organizations if you want to do it.

That’s consumer protection. That’s what it actually looks in an organization, whether you call it a bar association or not, that is actually charged with preventing bad lawyers from working for people. That’s not really what’s going on here. That’s not what’s going on in the regulatory scheme, the licensing scheme. None of this. This is all just sort of a way to collect fees.

Aaron Street: It does feel like that sometimes.

Sam Glover: It often feels like.

Aaron Street: Yes, or make you take more tests because that’s what everyone wants.

Sam Glover: Yeah, exactly. Well, and that’s kind of what military spouses have had to do, and there is a movement afoot to change that. I think it’s a really … It doesn’t need to stand for all of the things that we’ve just been discussing. I think you’ll hear Josie kind of go out of her way to avoid the slippery slope arguments that we’ve just been making. Military spouses are a great example of where this can be a big problem, and it’s pretty unfair. Let’s hear my conversation with Josie.

Josie Beets: My name is Josie Beets. I am the current President of the Military Spouse JD Network, a bar association for military spouses who are attorneys. I am a Louisiana licensed attorney that’s lived in Tennessee, Virginia, Louisiana, Nebraska, New York, and California. Not all of those have been military related, but it’s given me an appreciation for the moves that military families do have to make.

Sam Glover: Hi, Josie. Thanks for being with us.

Josie Beets: It’s good to be here.

Sam Glover: Awesome. Tell me, you said the Military Spouses JD Network is a bar association. Tell me about that. What does that mean and what does it do for people?

Josie Beets: We are an organization, a professional organization, for military spouses who are attorneys. That makes us a little bit different than most bar associations that are just in general for attorneys. We focus on military spouses because we have some unique mobility issues.

Sam Glover: Is mobility the crux of it? That’s where most of the problems come from or are there some other things that come up that you try to address?

Josie Beets: Mobility is definitely the biggest piece of the pie because … The way I explain it to lawyers is imagine if you had to take the bar exam every two years just so that you could live with your family. The spouses of active duty service members routinely move every two to three years. That’s just the cycle. That’s the way our military is set up, and so, personally, my family, we’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve moved every three years or so, which has given us a little bit more stability, but because every time you move you end up in a new state with a new jurisdiction and new licensing requirements, because those moves are every two years you don’t ever quite get to that five years reciprocity that most states require to waive in.

What we’ve done as an organization and why we were first formed was to look at the licensing issues state by state, board of law examiners by board of law examiners, and ask for an accommodation. Ask for that board or that state bar association to give us a little bit of wiggle room so that we continue to practice a career as our active duty spouse moves around.

Sam Glover: It’s probably worth mentioning at some point in here that I was a foreign service brat growing up, so we also did the moving. Although neither of my parents were lawyers, so I never encountered this issue, but there are a lot of things that are hard about moving. I can only imagine stacking having to study for a new bar exam every two years on top of that.

Josie Beets: There’s a lot of things about moving that people don’t like. Packing, unpacking, movers breaking things, things that are normal parts of our lives, but definitely doing it all while studying for a bar exam is pretty brutal. We have a member who studied for her fourth bar exam while moving from Rhode Island to Washington with her active duty Navy husband and four kids. The important part of that story is she passed, of course, but really, honestly, Sam, it shows the dedication that we lawyers have to our profession. You don’t accidentally become a lawyer. Some people have, let’s be clear, but we want to be lawyers. We want to practice our profession, and these are the lengths that people are willing to go to, to make that happen.

Sam Glover: Are most of the members of MSJDN women?

Josie Beets: We are 94% women. The military spouse community as a whole is about 90% women, so we trend a little more. I think it’s because we’re a pretty new organization. We’ve been around since 2011. We’re still pulling the men out of the woodwork. There are some stereotypes. Just like there are stereotypes for lawyers there are stereotypes for military spouses, and sometimes male military spouses aren’t interested in engaging in the same way that female military spouses are. I can tell you, as a board, as an organization, we’re committed to diversity, and that means when we find a dude we keep them.

Sam Glover: I like that. Let’s take apart the licensing issues because I’m thinking about the immediate thing that this brings to mind is moving is hard, I get it, but why should you be able to switch so easily when nobody else gets to? I suppose what comes to mind is, yeah, five years is about when you get to waive in most places, and the idea is that if you’ve been practicing for five years you’re competent. If you been practicing for five years you’re competent, but military spouses who have been practicing for five years, just not all in the same space, right? We’re just asking that presumption of competence should extend to them as well.

Josie Beets: Right. We absolutely are committed to maintaining high standards across the board in every state where we ask for licensing accommodations. We don’t want any sort of lowering of standards or different standard for a military spouse attorney, but states make exceptions all the time for people to be able to practice. Some states will let you practice if you’re a professor at law school or if you’re in-house counsel for a corporation. Those positions aren’t completely divorced from needing to know the state law, but we sort of make those accommodations for good public policy reasons, right?

Sam Glover: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josie Beets: We think, and sort of what we try to tell people and convince people is that the reason our situations rises to that same level of an important public policy reason is because our moves are mandatory, and we actually don’t get any say in them. If my active duty Army husband gets transferred to, says, Fort Erwin, California he can’t say, “You know what? Actually, that doesn’t work for me,” because he actually gets orders.

Sam Glover: That’s not the deal.

Josie Beets: Right, that’s not the deal. He gets orders and if he doesn’t follow those orders that’s actually a criminal infraction under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I haven’t done extensive research, Sam, but I’m pretty sure we’re the only group of people who if our spouse doesn’t move, if he wants to stay with the family or she wants to stay with the family in a certain location, they will go to jail.

Sam Glover: Right. Well, people who are already in jail, I guess. What is the exception that you look for look like? What’s the general … You don’t have to quote it at me, but I’m curious, what does it look like?

Josie Beets: Oh, I know it, Sam.

Sam Glover: Oh, good.

Josie Beets: What we ask for, we have a model rule that we sort of approach states with. It’s something that it’s just our model. It’s not like an ABA model rule or anything like that. The ABA did help us with it. They just advised on it though. What we do is we ask for a temporary license to practice while we’re in the jurisdiction attached to someone that we’re married to that is on active duty military orders placing them in that jurisdiction.

Sam Glover: Seems fair.

Josie Beets: The example I use is when my husband was assigned to Fort Campbell, which interestingly enough is on the Tennessee, Kentucky border. The rule that we put forward asked for an accommodation that while we were there I would have a license to practice in Tennessee as long as he was there on orders. There’s one other exception that we put in the rule that says … While we were at Fort Campbell my husband could have been assigned to what they call an unaccompanied tour in Japan or Korea. We sort of extend the licensing accommodation to accommodate that because that’s orders that he follows where the family isn’t allowed to come.

Sam Glover: Oh, so you would be able to continue in Tennessee even if he took off to Japan?

Josie Beets: Right. If he wasn’t allowed to bring family with him or if he were to deploy to Afghanistan for a year for some reason.

Sam Glover: Let me be the lawyer here and say, so what if you decided to move to Virginia while he was on his tour to Japan? What then? Or is that now how it works?

Josie Beets: I could do that. No, I could absolutely do that. Contrary to popular opinion the Department of Defense isn’t allowed to tell me where to go.

Sam Glover: Of course.

Josie Beets: But I could move, and people do. They move home sometimes in those situations to be around family or a support system, but my spouse would not have orders that would send him to Virginia, which would make me eligible to use the rule in that jurisdiction.

Sam Glover: Got you. You’ve had some success getting this accommodation in 23 states, I think you said, right?

Josie Beets: Right.

Sam Glover: How hard has it been?

Josie Beets: In some ways, it’s been very easy and in some ways, it’s been very hard. Could I give a better lawyer answer?

Sam Glover: I require that of all my guests. If the answer isn’t, “It depends,” we just shut off the recording and try again.

Josie Beets: What we found, Sam, is that when we tell people our story and when we explain, “My spouse doesn’t get to choose where he goes. He can’t just get out of the military.” Lawyers get it. They absolutely understand. They pretty quickly want to help us figure out a way forward. There are some exceptions to that. I love each and every board of law examiner across the country, but they are not sort of notorious for their forward thinking about the profession and the mobility of the profession, and so we have had to do some convincing. I told you, we have our model rule, and I think we’ve only had two or three states that have actually enacted the model rule with no changes, and so each rule is a little bit different.

Sam Glover: What is the pushback?

Josie Beets: Interestingly enough some of it is very legitimate. Some of it is “Why would we want a lawyer in our state that doesn’t know the law in the state?” Again, we go back to that public policy argument. A lawyer straight out of law school doesn’t really know the law in your state, regardless of how you feel about your bar exam. Some of it has been straight up protectionism. One of the most interesting things to watch over the past five or six years is the pushback from legal communities immediately surrounding military installations.

Sam Glover: Oh, that makes sense.

Josie Beets: Right?

Sam Glover: They’ve got a lot invested in representing that community of course.

Josie Beets: They do. There’s a perception that if you’re the military spouse lawyer you’re going to get all the divorces or custody issues. Things like that. You’re going to pull from their business.

Sam Glover: Well, that raises a good point. When military spouses move and get an accommodation do they go to work for other lawyers for the most part, or are they moving their own practices around, or is there no trend?

Josie Beets: There’s definitely a trend. We do a survey every year, and of the attorneys that are employed, have had employment since law school they’ve been equal parts employed as associates in firms or government attorneys. Those are both about 27, 28%. 6% have gone solo, and then we have a smattering of other people who’ve done paralegal work. People who are partners in organizations. People who are judges. It’s kind of amazing. Mostly, they’re lawyers working for other people.

We understand the upfront cost of hanging out a shingle. There’s very little incentive to do that in a community where you know you’re only going to be there for a certain amount of time. We do have members who have virtual practices that do immigration work or work around security clearances. Some of them are former JAGs themselves. We do encourage our members or try and give our members the resources so that they can build a virtual practice.

Sam Glover: Well, it seems like that’s one logical way to do it because otherwise aren’t you applying for a new job every two years?

Josie Beets: Yes, we get really good at networking.

Sam Glover: Fast.

Josie Beets: Really fast.

Sam Glover: Because I supposed if it takes you three months to find a job now you’re down to a year and nine months or probably a year and a half before you have to hand in your notice and head off to a new job. That’s rough.

Josie Beets: It can be really difficult. Especially if you’ve just left a job that you loved. My personal story is I’m licensed in Louisiana. Licensed in the great state of Louisiana, which has reciprocity with exactly no one because we all make bad decisions. Not that I am disparaging my Louisiana law license at all. My husband’s first duty station, we got married in 2008. He got stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and I was able to secure employment all through the three and a half years that we were there.

Now, I had a bunch of different jobs. I was a law clerk in a small District Court Trial Court in a rural county, which was very interesting. I was a legal aid attorney for kids who were in foster care in three of the very rural Louisiana parishes. I was a lawyer for the United States Bar [inaudible]

Sam Glover: On the flip side, it sounds like how can you possibly get bored switching it up all the time?

Josie Beets: I had all these opportunities because I was a Louisiana licensed attorney. It was great, but then we moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and I found myself with no legal network, no knowledge of the legal environment, and I was just convinced that I was never going to work again. I did a lot of volunteer work. I did a lot of networking, and I learned that those contacts don’t pay off quickly, but I did eventually get a job and started to work with the Tennessee Bar Association.

It was difficult because I loved my work in Louisiana. I loved working with kids. I loved working for the Army where I advised soldiers and families on a whole host of issues. All I’ve ever wanted to be was a free lawyer for people, and so it was great, but it is. It can be hard. That’s one of the reasons why we do our initial focus with MSJDN was licensing, but we’ve really tried to expand the relationships that we’re building to create hiring opportunities for military spouses.

Sam Glover: Well, let me stop you for one minute just because we need to hear from our sponsors, and when we come back let’s talk about that. Then I also want to talk about what the implications might be for the way we talk about state licensing schemes for everyone, not just military spouses. We’ll hear from our sponsors for a few minutes and we’ll come back.

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Sam Glover: We’re back. Josie, when we stopped you were talking about or you were starting to talk about MSJDN’s efforts at making it easy for military lawyer spouses to find employment when they move so frequently. Tell us about that, what was the genesis of that, and how are you going about trying to make that happen?

Josie Beets: When we first started, like I said, we were focused on licensing. We knew that … There’s a joke that we wanted our motto to be, “No more bar exams, please.” At the same time, a license is only good if you can secure employment. A license will be really great, but it’d be great if I just didn’t have to even get licensed in the new state because I could take my job with me. What we did is we created a program called Homefront to Hired that allows us the flexibility to reach out to employers who are interested in hiring military spouses and connect them with our members and create hiring opportunities.

One of our partners is Prudential. They actually came to us looking to hire a military spouse attorney and found one of our members that had … They were looking for 10 years’ experience in a certain field, and they brought her on as a full-time telework position, so she can do that work if she’s stationed in New Jersey, if she’s stationed in Singapore with her husband and her family. What we’ve also tried to do is work to find employers who will provide military spouses with the tools to pitch telework to their jobs. We’ve had varying degrees of success with that. It’s all been individual and ad hoc, but we’re working on making it a little bit more organizing.

Sam Glover: I like hearing the word telework. I feel like we don’t use that word enough.

Josie Beets: Right? I just telecommute, right, because you are working. You’re not moving. Our other great partner that we honored several years ago is the Army JAG Corps. They created a program where they’d have a database of resumes of military spouses who are attorneys. Not just Army spouses, but Navy spouses, Air Force spouses, all branches. When one of their installation legal offices has an opening the hiring authority there has the option to go into that database and pull out a military spouse attorney and hire quicker than if they went through the normal hiring process. You still have to be qualified. You still have to interview. You still have to be able to do the job and do the job well, but that has been a huge benefit to our members. Last year alone, and last fiscal year they hired 40 spouses.

Sam Glover: That’s awesome.

Josie Beets: Our numbers aren’t that big, so 40 is a big deal for us.

Sam Glover: It’s interesting because there are so many talented people out there that for various reasons aren’t able to work a full-time job that requires them to commute every day. There are so few employers that are willing to create models of employment that are flexible enough to employ those people. There’s a ton of good work to be done there that people with nontraditional arrangements can do. So few employers are going to do it, so it’s cool that you’re using the military spouse angle to maybe open some people up to it that wouldn’t otherwise have been willing. That’s cool.

Josie Beets: It’s fun. We really see … We feel, I feel, from time to time we’re really on the cutting edge of the profession. That we’re pushing the profession in ways that they otherwise might not move simply due to the fact that our being military spouses for good or bad does open doors.

Sam Glover: Of course, it does because there’s an automatic … Well, at least I think there’s often an automatic, “Oh, that’s a hardship. It’s a noble thing, and so we’re going to listen to this,” when otherwise somebody might just be dismissive.

Josie Beets: Right, and so we try to have those conversations about whether it’s telework, or flex schedules, or accommodating sort of work-life balance if it exists at all because that’s important to our group. When you say I need a flexible schedule because I need kid pick up or take care of a parent … Not that those aren’t important at all. Those are very important, and you should absolutely have the flexibility to do that, but when you say, “Because my husband’s deployed in Afghanistan, and I can only talk to him between these hours,” it just takes on a different level of urgency. I don’t think there’s any value more or less placed on that, but it opens people’s brains to the idea that maybe their ideas of face time, you have to be in the office, you have to do this, that, and the other, maybe that’s not a really good reason after all.

Sam Glover: Let’s have a different one of those conversations, which is I’m curious what you might think about the sort 50, whatever jurisdiction, licensing scheme that we have right now. You’ve got members who every couple years are getting licensed in different states now, I assume. What has proved to be difficult about getting up and running in a new state, learning the new state’s laws and procedures, and does any of that feel like a good reason for each state to continue licensing its own people? Are you starting to get the feeling that, “Hey, this all might just be a heck of a lot easier if we had a US law license”?

Josie Beets: That definitely would make things a lot simpler for us. We often talk as a leadership of the organization, wouldn’t it be great if we were put out of a job? Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have this problem? That’s one way to solve that problem. I’m not optimistic that we ever get to that point only because there are a lot of people that feel very strongly and very personally about the laws in their state and how different they are.

I mentioned I’m licensed in Louisiana. Every time I tell someone that they bring up the Napoleonic Code. Many people disagree with me just generally, but people disagree with my assessment, which is it just means that in Louisiana we have some funny words for stuff, but it’s basically the same thing you have in Ohio, Nebraska, or Florida. We just call it something different. That’s kind of the case in every state. You have to get up to date on the lingo and get up to date on some of the laws, and so I do think there’s a good argument for a 50 state license. Even if you had a 50 state license we would still be advocating for these temporary accommodations if there was any sort of state by state specificness of it. One of the reasons we ask for a temporary license, Sam, is because we don’t want five bar licenses.

Sam Glover: That’s a lot of CLEs and a lot of license fees to maintain.

Josie Beets: That’s a lot of disciplinary board fees. Most of our members pay over $700 a year for bar licensing fees, and so I do think that it would be really nice if we could have a levelheaded national conversation in the legal community about moving not just to the UBE, but to a 50 state solution. Not that we’re all going to agree on that path, but it would be great to have that conversation without people getting too angry.

Sam Glover: Based on your experiences and your members’ experiences, what do you feel like are the legitimate parts of that getting up and running in a new state and what parts aren’t really as hard as maybe we may think they are? I’m trying to imagine starting from scratch. The hardest parts are probably getting networked into the community, finding mentors, finding people to work with. I’m not sure that I think learning variations on type of law I already know something about are really going to be all that difficult.

Josie Beets: I agree. It’s really the hard part is finding those mentors, finding those people. Not even mentors but colleagues who could call and bounce an idea off of. I am a bar association evangelist. I believe deeply in the bar association structures as far as professional network go. I’m concerned that people of my generation and younger don’t participate in those groups as much as they should, and they’re really missing out on a certain opportunity for that. That’s really how we suggest people get into their local legal community.

Most bar associations, other than your state bars, are voluntary. You don’t necessarily have to be licensed in the jurisdiction to belong to the Women’s Bar Association of Tennessee. You can join those groups, and it’s not just for the benefit of our members. If our members go to those meetings and tell their stories it makes it more likely that we’re going to be successful in talking to people about military spouses, about licensing accommodations as well.

Sam Glover: I assume this changes, but do you have members in all 50 states who are approaching their bar associations and looking for accommodations?

Josie Beets: We’re actively working in about dozen states right now. There are some states that just don’t have a very heavy military presence, and some of these rule change processes come up by happenstance. For example, just last week a military spouse licensing accommodation went live in Michigan, which is really exciting for us. Not the least of which is because Michigan has a little bit of a different process, and so our rule actually had to go through the state legislature. Normally it goes through the courts because the courts [inaudible 00:37:00] I learn something new every day.

There’s about 250, I think, active duty service members stationed in the state of Michigan, so we’re not talking about big impact, but still important to get on the map, to show Michigan military families that the state’s legal community does think that they’re important. Compare to that to a state like Virginia where we do have a licensing accommodation. It has about 150,000 active duty troops. There’s just a little bit of a different impact there, and so we are an all volunteer organization. All of our advocacy in that states is grassroots. It’s led by volunteer on the ground in the state who goes to bar association meetings, cold calls retired federal judges who might have a connection to the military community and ask them if they’d be willing to have coffee and talk about this issue. We use it not just to advocate for the organization, but as a great networking opportunity for the military spouse who ends in that new place. It’s always easier to walk into a networking reception when you have something to talk about.

Sam Glover: Right. For our listeners, if they’re interested in supporting this, I imagine one thing they can do is if they’re on am ethics and rules committee bring it up, …

Josie Beets: Absolutely.

Sam Glover: … and reach out to you and let you know about it. What are some other things that they might be able to do to support this?

Josie Beets: We have a great website that has some resources on it. MSJDN.org. We are always willing to send someone out to come and talk to you, a bar association, about these issues. Things that they can do, obviously, participate in our Homefront to Hired Program. It’s amazing. We do a lot of work to network with employers and bring new partners on board, but our most successful hiring moments have been when a company just has felt so compelled that they’ve cold called us and said, “Can you find me a military spouse attorney?” I was like, “Well, I have 1,200 of them, so I think so.”

Particularly in those communities right outside the gate, as we call them, right outside the military installation there’s a misconception that, “Well, you’re a military spouse. You’re only going to be here for two years, so why would I hire someone that I know is going to leave?” My big ask for anyone who has the power to hire is don’t fall into that trap because we are going to work harder for you over that two years than anyone that you might hire that’s from the local community. I don’t say that to say that we’re so awesome. I’m saying we have to do it because we need your good recommendation to get the next job.

Sam Glover: Yeah, and you’re hoping to pay it forward as well so that if the military spouse that had the job in the next town that you end up, maybe that paves the way for you to get a job there and likewise behind you for the next one.

Josie Beets: Right. Right. One of my favorite statistics that we get from our annual survey is the number of military spouses who’ve found their job through the Military Spouse JD Network. We’re at about 15% now. 15% of our spouses have found a job through the network. I haven’t been able to find any private bar data that lets us compare, but to us, that’s a huge number. We’re six years old.

Sam Glover: It sounds to me like another thing that listeners could do is if you’re interested in remote work and you’re interested in hiring a virtual attorney, let’s say, this seems like a really good way to find somebody who is going to be an enthusiastic remote worker for you. It’s maybe worth reaching out and posting a job if you’ve got work that doesn’t need an office presence to do it.

Josie Beets: Absolutely. A lot of the big firms have moved their back office functions to some virtual [inaudible 00:40:55] I know [inaudible 00:40:55] was on one of them, and we have several spouses that are employed just by virtue of the fact that’s an opportunity to do your job from anywhere across the country or around the globe. We are always looking for those new opportunities. We’re just another place to post a job. We’re more than happy to be that, but we want to build a relationship with those organizations because we want to make sure that they’re getting good attorneys. We know that they’re going to get good attorneys, but that they’re having a good experience all the way around.

Sam Glover: Josie, if people want to get in touch or find out more, post a job, support MSJDN, where they can find it?

Josie Beets: Our website is MSJDN.org. We also have a Twitter, @MilspouseJD. They can, of course, find us on Facebook. Anyone can post a job on your jobs board by going to MSJDN.org/jobs, and that’ll automatically go to all of our members. It’s a really great way to increase diversity in your firm. We also participate every year in the Veterans Legal Career Fair in Washington DC. That’s for all veterans, not just active duty JAGs or former JAGs, but they’ve been kind enough to extend invitations to military spouse attorneys every year. Especially those big firms who do that sort of OCI type interviewing, we would love to see them on the roster of people who are interested in hiring through the Veterans Legal Career Fair as well.

Sam Glover: Cool. Thank you so much for being with us today, Josie. Good luck getting the other 27 states.

Josie Beets: Thanks, Sam. We’re on our way.

Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s show please visit Lawyerist.com/podcast or LegalTalkNetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes or anywhere podcasts are found. Both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and you can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.

Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.

2 Comments

  1. Paul Spitz says:

    This was a good discussion. The argument that you don’t want lawyers practicing in a particular state if they don’t know the laws holds no weight with me. The fact that you’ve taken the bar exam doesn’t mean that you “know” the laws. You’ve learned a little bit about a lot of different areas, but do you really have in-depth knowledge of the one or two areas you will be practicing in? And if knowledge of the laws is so important that we have to test for it, why don’t these states require that the lawyers take the bar exam every five years to keep their license? That would ensure they keep up with developments, wouldn’t it? (by the way, the image of all those leaders of the legal community having to study and sit for a refresher exam at the age of 50, 55, 60, etc. is the highlight of my day).

    More to the point, passing a pass-fail exam once, right out of law school, simply doesn’t ensure that you “know the law” in your state. A good lawyer looks things up. Who would you prefer represent you – an in-state lawyer who hasn’t checked the statutes in years and just wings it, or an out-of-state lawyer who is actually going to read the statutes and regulations to make sure everything is done right?

  2. Peg Manning says:

    As a lawyer who took the full PA bar in the 70s, took an “attorney” bar in MD in the 80s, waived into D.C., and was forced to take the CA bar after eleven years of practice in a very narrow specialization–requiring re-learning all types of law I had never used and would never use again–I can sympathize.

    We need to recognize that it’s 2017. Why there can’t be a national bar (other than the broad concept of states’ right and the very real intent to have barriers to entry) is beyond me. In fact, we should allow graduates of highly-accredited law schools with a B average or better to waive in. At the same time, we need to clear out the underbrush of Jim’s Law Schools that are taking students’ money but providing little in the way of a legal education.

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