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August 15, 2018

Supreme Court adopts FL military spouse rule

The second time was the charm as the Bar’s proposed rule to allow lawyer-spouses of military personnel stationed in Florida to practice law cleared Supreme Court muster on July 19.

The court approved creating Chapter 21 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and also new Rule of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar 2-23.7. The changes allow the lawyer spouses of military personnel, if they meet several conditions, to practice in Florida for up to five years without taking the bar exam.

Karen Scanlan, left, and Karlyn Boler “It is our hope that the adoption of these new rules will assuage some of the hardships associated with service in the U.S. Armed Services,” the court said. “At a minimum, our adoption of these new rules gives form to the abiding gratitude we all share for the men and women who voluntarily serve in the U.S. Armed Services and the sacrifices endured by their families.”

Vanessa Brice, chair of the Bar’s Military Affairs Committee, which proposed the rule and whose husband is a retired Marine, praised the decision. She noted military spouses often coordinate moves for their families, finding new housing, schools, doctors, and other amenities and services.

“To then require a military spouse attorney to study and take the bar in Florida for what is likely only going to be three years places an unreasonable burden on that person,” she said. “Study for the bar requires at least six months of dedicated time, and results take an additional three months. By the time all is said and done, it would be a year before the spouse could practice in the state. The expense of bar study courses and the bar exam itself make it unfeasible for the military spouse.”

Karen Scanlan, who heads the national Military Spouse JD Network, a bar association for lawyers married to service members, said the rule approval is especially significant because Florida, which has several military bases from Key West to Pensacola, is home to around 55,000 service members. She estimated, though, that the rule will be used by only around five to 10 lawyers.

Florida becomes the 30th state, plus the Virgin Islands, to have a military spouse rule, Scanlan said, noting the effort in Florida began four years ago.

“The Bar has been amazing in its support of this initiative, keeping the dialogue open between their efforts and our efforts,” she said.

Karlyn Boler, the MSJDN’s Florida director, said, “This rule will have a profound and long-lasting effect on those military families who receive orders to Florida. The tireless efforts of the MSJDN Florida State Team and the collaboration of Florida Bar leaders have made this rule a reality.”

To be eligible for the program, lawyers must be married to a service member and be enrolled in the Department of Defense’s “Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System”; be a law school graduate and hold an active, valid law license in another U.S. jurisdiction; be a member in good standing in every jurisdiction to which they are admitted; not be subject to any discipline or pending disciplinary investigation in any other jurisdiction; reside in Florida or plan to reside in the state 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; pay a $1,000 application fee to the FBBE; and read the Rules of Discipline, the Rules of Professional Conduct, and agree to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction for disciplinary purposes.

Those certified under the new rule must complete the basic skills requirement in Rule 6-12 within six months of certification, and complete 10 hours of CLE including two hours of ethics credits each year they participate in the program. They must also be employed by a Florida law firm or have a mentoring relationship with a Bar member.

“The Military Affairs Committee will establish a mentor network for this purpose and may appoint its own committee members or other members of The Florida Bar as mentors,” according to the rule.

Those certified must also pay annual Bar membership fees equal to those of active Bar members.

The new chapter also sets out conditions for losing the military spouse certification, including for failing to meet the CLE requirements, failing the bar exam, or being disbarred or suspended in another jurisdiction.

Chapter 21 becomes effective September 17.

The Bar had originally submitted the rule last year but without any time limit on how long military spouses could practice in the state or a requirement to have a mentor or work in a Florida law firm. The court rejected that petition and asked for those changes, and the Bar refiled the request in January.

The court acted in In re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar – Military Spouse Rules, Case No. SC18-158.

Brice and the MSJDN praised Military Affairs Committee immediate past Chair Tina Fischer and other past chairs, including Martin Stern and W.C. Henry, for pushing the rule.

“When a spouse serves in the military, so too does the entire family,” Brice said. “We take very seriously our responsibility to our military families. By taking this step and approving this rule, the Supreme Court, along with The Florida Bar, and the Military Affairs Committee, and others have made life a little easier for some military families.”

Scanlan said more information about the MSJDN can be found at www.msjdn.org.

[Revised: 12-10-2018]