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Military spouses may work as certified legal interns while awaiting character and fitness review

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Bailey L. McGowan and Capt. Kaleb Simpson

Bailey L. McGowan, with her husband Capt. Kaleb Simpson, was the first person to take advantage of the Military Spouse Rule after it was adopted. Florida has more than 55,000 active-duty service members on bases from Pensacola to Key West.

Military spouses who are lawyers may work as certified legal interns while they wait to pass the Florida Board of Bar Examiners character and fitness review to practice in Florida under the Bar’s Military Spouse Rule.

The Supreme Court on May 21 approved an amendment to Chapter 21 of Bar rules, which allows for the military spouses who are licensed in other jurisdictions but stationed in Florida to practice for up to five years in the state, under the supervision of a Bar member, without taking the bar exam.

After the new rule was approved by the Supreme Court in 2018, Sixth Circuit Public Defender Bob Dillinger, according to the court, “observed that the [FBBE’s] character and fitness review can take several months to complete, hindering the ability of a service member’s spouse to obtain employment, as well as frustrating potential employers.”

The Supreme Court asked the Bar to look into allowing the military spouse lawyers to practice as certified legal interns while the character and fitness review was being conducted. The Bar, with unanimous Board of Governors approval, recommended that change.

The Bar’s proposal was tweaked slightly by the courts “to ensure that persons temporarily certified under the subdivision are eligible for certification under Chapter 21 to practice law in Florida as the spouse of a service member and are subject to the Court’s disciplinary authority.”

The new rule reads:

“[Rule] 21-4 (c) Temporary Certification. A military spouse who has made application under this rule may be certified by the Supreme Court of Florida to act as a certified legal intern while the application for certification as a military spouse lawyer is pending. A military spouse applicant certified as a legal intern must be a member of an out-of-state bar in good standing, employed by or in a mentorship relationship with a member of The Florida Bar who is eligible to practice law in Florida, and submit to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida for disciplinary purposes. Certification as a legal intern will terminate on certification of the applicant as a military spouse lawyer or on denial of certification as a military spouse lawyer.”

The amendment is effective July 20. The court acted in In re: Amendments to Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 21-4.1, Case No. SC19-1861.

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