Posted: August 12, 2020
Rules Governing the State Bar – Comment Period Closed September 26, 2020
USB14-0805. Admission for spouse of active military stationed in Utah. Proposed change in 14-805(a)(4)(A) requires military spouse applicants to pay the full application fee rather than half. Reason for the change is recent federal legislation that reimburses military spouses for the full application fee.
USB14-0715. Request for review. Proposed change in 14-715(e)(4) allows petitioners to submit a reply brief that is limited to the facts raised in the Bar’s response to the initial petition.
USB14-0705. Admission by Motion and USB14-0719. Qualifications for admission of House Counsel Applicants. Changes to both rules permit House Counsel licensees to count time spent practicing in Utah with a house counsel license toward the time required for admission by motion.
I’m disappointed to see the proposed amendment to 14-805(a)(4)(A), which would require military families to pay almost $1,000 in order to apply under the accommodation. This proposal creates unnecessary financial stress and barriers to employment for military spouses already facing unemployment rates estimated as high as 28%.
Firstly, in order to qualify for the federal reimbursement, a military spouse must have been licensed at the previous duty station. There will be military spouse attorneys who qualify for admission in Utah even if they did not obtain a license in the last jurisdiction (especially if they are coming back from a tour overseas or in a remote location). This proposed change disadvantages those who will already be in a difficult position without an income and seeking to re-enter the profession in a new location with no professional network.
Additionally, the DOD reimbursement is only a pilot program and scheduled to terminate in 2024. It is subject to funding and not a permanent process at this point.
Lastly, the DOD program allows for reimbursement, so a military family must still come up with the funds out of pocket to apply for admission. Most military families are relying on one income during a relocation – a survey last year found that 27% of military families have less than $500 in savings and that military families lose $5,000 out of pocket with each move, even after government reimbursement. The fundamental purpose of this licensing accommodation is to allow the military spouse to start working as soon as possible after a move, but requiring a family already under financial stress to come up with almost $1,000 creates an additional barrier to employment, even if that amount is later reimbursed.
Some jurisdictions waive licensing fees for military families entirely, regardless of DOD’s reimbursement policy. I hope the Court will balance the proposed increase in revenue against the stress this change will place on military families already burdened by the unique demands of military life. Please consider reducing, not increasing, any fees charged to military spouse attorneys.
I write to oppose the proposed change to Rule 14-805(a)(4)(A), which would require military spouse attorneys to pay an increased fee in order to apply under the accommodation. The current rule is a tremendous benefit to military families stationed in Utah. The proposed change adds undue financial burden to military spouse attorneys and their families who move on average every 2-3 years and must rely on a single income when they arrive in Utah and must wait for the attorney spouse to obtain a license and secure employment.
Military families face real struggles to maintain two careers while supporting their family and attempting to save for retirement and their children’s education. A recent survey shows that while 85% of military spouse attorneys hold an active law license, only 37% have a job requiring a license. Military spouse attorneys have a 27% unemployment rate and those who do secure employment suffer from a $33,000 wage gap compared to their civilian counterparts. With each military move, it is estimated that a family loses $5,000 out of pocket (even after reimbursements). This does not include the time and investment it takes to secure a new state law license each time an attorney moves in support of her husband’s military career. The families of military spouse attorneys also bear the cost of maintaining previous state licenses and keeping up with CLE. Keep in mind that paying up front to obtain a new state license doesn’t guarantee the attorney will quickly find employment and it doesn’t pave the way for a lifelong practice in Utah. A military spouse attorney will likely leave the state within three years and her Utah license will terminate by the terns of the rule. Why pay full price for a temporary license?
The Utah State Bar has examined a DOD license reimbursement program and reasoned that military spouse attorneys can afford to pay full price because they will be reimbursed. But the program is simply not that straightforward. First, many military spouse attorneys do not qualify for the federal reimbursement program because they were not licensed at their spouse’s their last duty station. When a family is stationed overseas, for example, the spouse will almost certainly not be licensed by the local jurisdiction. If this family’s next duty station is Utah, the spouse attorney will not qualify for the DoD reimbursement program. Those who do qualify for the program report having trouble receiving the reimbursement or having to wait weeks or months for payment. Lastly, the reimbursement program is a pilot program set to expire in 2024, and there is no way to know whether the program will be continued.
As the attorney spouse of an Air Force officer, I urge you to NOT AMEND the current Rule 14-508(a)(4)(A). Military spouses make countless sacrifices in support of their nation, and Utah’s rule shows that the state supports and values the struggles of career-minded spouses. Please do not throw another barrier in our path by increasing the costly burden of moving in support of our spouses’ military service.
I write on behalf of the Military Spouse J.D. Network (MSJDN), a bar association for military spouses, opposing the proposed amendment to Rule 14-805(a)(4)(A), requiring military spouses to pay the full application fee for admission to the Utah State Bar (USB).
Since its founding in 2011, MSJDN attorneys have shared our challenges and stories with bar associations across the country, including that of Utah. Our stories display the difficulties military spouse attorneys face in maintaining our careers while also serving our nation in support of our servicemember spouses. In the last decade we have seen great momentum across the country to support military spouse licensing, resulting in licensing accommodations in 39 states and one U.S. territory. In March 2019, Utah became the 36th jurisdiction to adopt Rule 14-805, allowing military spouse attorneys included on their spouse’s orders to waive into the state bar without having to sit for the bar exam (subject to restrictions). As written, Utah’s current rule demonstrates a clear intention to reduce the financial burden and subsequent barrier to employment caused by a full payment for temporary admission to the USB. Amending this rule to require an increased payment for temporary licensure completely undoes the original intent to aid military spouse attorneys, and adds yet another barrier to overcome in the state of Utah.
The USB proposed this amendment in response to the “recent federal legislation that reimburses military spouses for their full application fee.” However, relying blindly on this new legislation without fully understanding the total impact of the change on military spouse attorneys in Utah is extremely problematic for the following reasons:
First, the proposed rule is a financial burden on military families, especially those that rely on one income while a spouse awaits licensure and employment in their new home state. On average, active duty military personnel move once every two to three years, 2.4 times as often as civilian families. Military spouses move across state lines 10 times more frequently than their civilian counterparts. As a result of frequent moves, while 85% of military spouse attorneys hold an active law license, only 37% have a job requiring said license. Military spouse attorneys have a 27% unemployment rate, and suffer from a $33,000 wage gap compared to their civilian counterparts. Additionally, during PCS, it is estimated that each military family loses $5,000 out of pocket (even after reimbursements), while 27% of military families have less than $500 in savings. The families of military spouse attorneys also bear the cost of maintaining other state licenses and associated CLE fees. Further, 70% of military spouse attorneys are responsible for student loan payments, with 40% owing more than $75,000 in student loans. Asking military families to come up with $850 during the financially strained time of a move to a new duty station is an unnecessary stress and cost for those who simply cannot afford it. Amending the current rule to increase the financial burden on military spouse attorneys attempting to waive into Utah will only add to the problems presented by these staggering statistics.
Second, there are military spouse attorneys who do not qualify for the federal reimbursement program. To qualify for the Department of Defense (DoD) reimbursement program, military spouse attorneys must have been licensed in their last duty station. An example where this situation would be an issue is a military family stationed overseas where the spouse attorney was unable to use their law license for the duration of that tour. If this family’s next duty station was Utah, the spouse attorney would not qualify for the DoD reimbursement program, and the amendment to Rule 14-805(a)(4)(A) would present a significant barrier to employment by extending the time the spouse attorney was unable to practice law due to an unnecessary financial burden. Furthermore, those who do qualify for the DoD program report great difficulties with the process including but not limited to, the need to submit multiple applications due to administrative errors, the requirement of a Congressional inquiry regarding a reimbursement, and delays in receipt of the reimbursement spanning months.
Lastly, the DoD reimbursement program is a pilot program set to expire in 2024. A rule change having a severe impact on military families and the careers of military spouse attorneys should not be based on a temporary program.
As our nation faces a global pandemic and a failing economy, proposing an amendment that seeks to create an additional financial burden on a population that already faces so many barriers is unjust, and unreasonable. For the aforementioned reasons, I implore you to deny the proposed amendment to USB Rule 14-0805.