It is summer time, and recent law school graduates are studying, pacing, barely sleeping, and running through practice tests in preparation for the ultimate in licensing exams: The Bar. Most attorneys hope to take the exam once in their legal careers. For military spouses who are married to active duty service members, this is a reality they have to face every 2-3 years when they move to a new jurisdiction following military orders. In February 2012, the American Bar Association House of Delegates unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the unique situation faced by military spouse attorneys and calling on all state and local bar associations to provide an accommodation for their unique lifestyle.
Montage Legal Group is proud to include military spouses in its network of freelance attorneys, including Mary Reding, co-founder of the Military Spouse JD Network and the force behind the new ABA policy. Mary has led a national advocacy campaign to provide admission for qualified military spouse attorneys and to educate the legal community about military life, recognized up to the White House level. Idaho was the first state to provide admission without examination for qualified military spouse attorneys in the state due to their spouses’ military orders and many other states will soon follow. Montage Legal Group currently has four JD military spouses in its network – Tracey Angelopoulos, Jessica Coffin, Sara Mostafa-Ray, and Mary Reding.
JD Military spouses have interesting career paths to say the least. Jessica Coffin, for example, met her now husband while studying law at the University of Southern California. She once thought that she would start a traditional career path at Snell & Wilmer, but her vision quickly changed when her husband became a JAG officer with the United States Navy, and the couple moved to Guam. Jessica is currently back in California while her husband is deployed to Afghanistan for seven months, but uncertainty looms ahead for his next orders.
“Honestly, there have been times in the past year where I have felt like there were really no options out there for me as an attorney. Most law firms understandably won’t hire someone who is only in a location for a few months at a time. There is also the reality that even if my husband is stationed in the states, we will mostly likely only be in each state for three years at most, and I for one don’t want to be taking a new Bar exam every three years.”
There are few good options for JD military spouses. One is taking a new Bar exam with every move. Another option is to split the family up so each spouse can continue their careers. Sara Mostafa-Ray explains,
“One option is to live in a split household, with your spouse’s serving as a “geo-bachelor,” leaving his family behind when he moves to a new duty station, rendering you a single parent if you have children, and putting a strain on your marriage. For the vast majority, including my family, the latter is not a viable option: you move together as a family when your spouse is transferred. When you’ve invested the time, effort and resources required to become an attorney, you really feel the sacrifice you’re making, but hopefully, you feel that it’s worth it. If you aspired to work for the same law firm or legal agency for the long run and climb the professional ladder, you quickly become aware that you’ll have to reshape your career goals. I consider it preferable to work as a freelance attorney, gaining substantive and valuable legal experience of my own choosing, over making a career out of being a lateral Associate.”
Even if the JD military spouse stays in one place, these attorneys endure substantial career and family difficulties when their military spouses are deployed. Tracey Angelopoulos finished law school after all of the transfers ended, but still dealt with many deployments over the years.
“My husband has deployed a lot over the years, and it’s been difficult to raise two children alone while working full time at a big firm. As a second year attorney, he was gone for nearly a year. During that time, I was asked to third-chair an arbitration for three weeks in Los Angeles, which was extremely difficult. Being part of Montage as a freelance attorney gives me the flexibility and the more time for family that I’ve wanted to achieve.”
But most JD military spouses sacrifice willingly, as part of their own personal service to support their husbands and their country. Mary Reding explains,
“I knew that moving every 2-3 years was going to be an obstacle to practicing law, and it would be more difficult to maintain career advancement. I weighed that heavily with the pride I found in my husband’s sense of service, the camaraderie with our fellow military families, and the knowledge that I am responsible for making my career work for me. I am proud of the decisions we have made as a family to continue to serve our country. Along this journey I have found a passion in advocating for military families, something I would have never discovered if I had remained in a traditional legal career.”
With advances in technology, the rise of virtual practice, and new business models like Montage Legal Group, JD military spouses are finding some exciting new options. A freelance legal practice allows JD military spouses to relocate to multiple jurisdictions, and work for law firms virtually. Jessica Coffin explains:
“Because of the caliber of Montage’s attorneys and its reputation, I can continue to gain practical, high-level legal experience instead of doing some of the more monotonous tasks that other legal staffing agencies offer. I am so lucky that a company like Montage exists; it provides such a vital, and previously missing, resource for law firms – very qualified attorneys like me that are simply in transition, but have valuable skills and training to offer. Montage’s flexible and individualized approach allows me to continue practicing law in the midst of my life as a military spouse.
Mary Reding, who is at the forefront of advocating for JD military spouses all the way up to the White House, summarizes,
“Montage Legal Group was founded on the principles I believe in: providing a network of high-level attorneys, producing excellent legal work, and a flexible work environment. For a military spouse the ability to continue to practice law while managing deployment schedules and training is very difficult. I am thrilled to be involved an accomplished group of attorneys who are making the legal profession work for their lifestyles.”
Montage Legal Group is thrilled to support JD military spouses. The JD Military Spouse Network is gathering in Southern California on July 5, 2012 to discuss progress with the ABA and the JD Military Spouse advocacy. The event will be at 5pm on July 5, 2012 at Flemings Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 8970 University Center Lane, San Diego, CA. All attorneys, judges, members of the legal community, JD Military Spouse supporters are invited to attend.
The JD Military Spouse Network advocates for JD military spouses all over the world, who are families sacrificing traditional careers to serve their country. The organization focuses on relaxed requirements for multi-jurisdictional Bar admission, and support for JD military spouses.
Jessica Coffin graduated from Westmont College in 2005, and the University of Southern California School of Law in 2008. Jessica then joined Snell & Wilmer as an associate in the Product Liability Litigation group. She married her law school sweetheart, Drew Coffin, a JAG officer for the United States Navy, and moved to Guam. Jessica is back in California while her husband is in Afghanistan.
Sara graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, and UCLA School of Law in 2006. Sara then joined Cooley LLP’s San Diego office, where she practiced as a Business Associate. Sara met and married her husband Andre, a Senior Chief with the U.S. Navy. When Andre was transferred to Pearl Harbor in 2008, Sara moved to Honolulu with him and worked for a nonprofit legal agency for some time before accepting a position as an Associate with a law firm in Honolulu. Sara and her family transferred back to San Diego at the beginning of 2012.
Update: Tracey Angelopoulos accepted a position with Fleming & Fell, PC and is now part of our Montage Alumni. Congratulations Tracey!
Tracey graduated from the University of Florida in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor in Russian Language. After college, she married her husband Mike, who is Naval Aviator. The family spent the next few years moving from coast to coast, and finally settled in San Diego in 1998. Tracey attended law school at the University of San Diego School of Law, and graduated in 2001. Tracey then spent 9 years in large law firms, including Luce Forward (now McKenna Long) and Baker & McKenzie. Tracey transitioned to the California Attorney General’s Office in 2010, but left in search of increased career flexibility. Tracey’s husband was about to retire from the Navy, after serving 22 years, but it now looks like he will be taking a three year order overseas.
Mary a native Californian and attended Santa Clara University earning a B.S. in Political Science and attended the University of San Diego School of Law. After law school, Mary went directly into in-house corporate work for Pebble Beach Company, gaining immediate in-house exposure and knowledge of what clients are looking for. While living in Pebble Beach, Mary met and married a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. Due to his job in the Air Force, Mary moved five times in seven years, including tours overseas. Mary was fortunate to gain international experience as a management consultant for a Global Fortune 100 company in London and then returning in-house at Pebble Beach Company.