Florida may allow licensed military spouses to practice law in the state

By Tara Mapes | Sep 18, 2016

TALLAHASSEE - A proposed rule permitting spouses of military personnel stationed in Florida to practice law in the state if they hold licenses elsewhere was presented to the Florida Bar's Board of Governors recently.

The rule requires the licensed spouse to meet eligibility requirements before being given permission to practice in the state.

Eighteen states have a waive-in provision for military spouses and an additional 13 are currently considering similar rules, according to the Florida Bar.

The Florida Bar summarized the proposed rule on its website stating the rule provides that the Supreme Court may certify a military spouse who is a lawyer to practice in Florida while the spouse is stationed in the state as long as the lawyer: is registered in the Department of Defense’s “Defense Enrollment Eligibility System,” which identifies them as spouses of full-time active duty military members; holds a juris doctorate or Bachelor of Law from an American Bar Association-accredited law school; is licensed in another U.S. jurisdiction after passing a written exam; is an active member in another bar in U.S. jurisdiction; is a member in good standing in every other bar to which the applicant is admitted, and is not subject to a discipline or pending disciplinary matter in any of those jurisdictions; has not failed the Florida bar exam or the Florida Board of Bar Examiners' (FBBE) character and fitness review within the past five years; is actually living in Florida with the active duty spouse or intends to do so within six months of the application; and certifies that he or she has read the bar’s rules of discipline and professional conduct, and agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court.

The applicants also must submit an application to the FBBE, pay a fee set by that board, and establish character and fitness to satisfy the FBBE.

Lawyers permitted to practice under the rule must complete the required basic skills course within six months of being certified and complete 10 hours of Continuing Learning Education (CLE) each year they practice in Florida.

The spouses’ license terminates when they move out of the state, pass the bar and become a regular member, or fail the bar exam or the FBBE character and fitness review.

Military spouses showed an outpouring of support for the proposed rule on the Florida Bar’s Facebook page.  One visitor, Monica Rhea, wrote, “Really wish this had been the case several years ago. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to sacrifice my legal career.”

Alice Peters, a licensed attorney in Ohio and spouse of a military attorney, said the couple moves every two years and the news of Florida’s potential new rule relieves the burden of worry many licensed military spouses have when they are given their new assignment location.

“Without rules like these, it makes it impossible for us to practice law," Peters told the Florida Record. "It’s impractical to spend thousands of dollars and a year or more to take bar prep courses and sit for an exam. By that point, we are close to moving again.”

Peters and her husband are permitted to identify up to 10 preferred areas for future assignments. She is a member of the Military Spouse J.D Network and stays up to date on the states that have rules permitting her to waive in.

A native of South Carolina, which recently passed a similar rule, Peters is excited other states are catching on to ensure military families’ don’t suffer the loss of one income and a career licensed military spouses worked so hard to obtain.

“This rule wouldn’t have a huge impact on their resident attorneys," Peters said. "There aren’t tons of licensed military spouses. However, it will have such a big impact on military families, and that’s what is important. This proposed rule makes it possible for dual-income military families to maintain both incomes while allowing licensed spouses to continue to do what they are really passionate about.”

The proposed rule is scheduled for a vote by the Florida Bar Board of Governors on Dec. 9.

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