IT’S NOW EASIER FOR MILITARY SPOUSES TO PRACTICE LAW IN FLORIDA
A recent rule change removed a major barrier for spouses of military personnel who wish to practice law in Florida. The first military spouse to be admitted to The Florida Bar under the new rule is Bailey L. McGowan, who was sworn in as a member of the bar on Jan. 31 and now works as a public defender in a misdemeanor court in Okaloosa County.
McGowan’s husband, Kaleb Simpson, is a captain in the Air Force, flying out of Hurlburt Field in Okaloosa County, where he has been stationed since 2017. McGowan stayed behind in Texas to complete her studies and sit for the Texas bar exam before moving to Florida.
The rule change, which was proposed by The Florida Bar’s Military Affairs Committee, is significant because Florida has more than 55,000 active-duty service members in bases from Pensacola to Key West. Florida is the 30th state to have a military spouse rule.
The Florida Supreme Court, recognizing the unique mobility requirements of military families who defend their country, approved creating Chapter 21 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and also a new Rule of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar 2-23.7. The changes allow the lawyer-spouses of full-time active duty military personnel, if they meet several conditions, to practice in Florida for up to five years without taking the Bar exam.
In approving the rule, the Supreme Court wrote that “the assignment of a service member to a duty location in Florida may place the service member’s spouse in the untenable position of having to choose between giving up the practice of law to relocate with the service member and continuing to practice law in the jurisdiction where he or she is already licensed.”
Eliminating the Bar exam can halve the time it takes for an attorney coming from out-of-state to meet the requirements for practicing law in Florida.
“I was ecstatic for the opportunity to practice law without having to take another bar for a state that we unfortunately won’t be living in forever,” McGowan said. “This rule enables military spouses to give back to their communities and families while also ensuring the integrity of The Florida Bar.”
To be eligible, a lawyer must be married to a service member and hold an active, valid law license in another U.S. jurisdiction; be a member in good standing and not be subject to any discipline or pending disciplinary investigation in any jurisdiction to which they are admitted; plan to reside in Florida in the next six months; not have failed the Florida Bar exam within the past five years; pass a character and fitness review by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners; and pay a $1,000 application fee. The Florida Bar recommends that candidates apply as soon as the military issues the change of station orders.
Once certified under the rule, the new Florida Bar member must complete the basic skills requirement within six months of certification, and complete 10 hours of Continuing Legal Education, including two hours of ethics credits, each year. The new member also be employed by a Florida law firm or have a mentoring relationship with a Bar member.
The Florida Bar grants permission to reprint, post or link to the following articles and video that help explain the changes:
FLORIDA BAR NEWS STORIES: Supreme Court adopts FL military spouse rule