Military spouses can now more easily practice law in Connecticut

Connecticut is making it easier for military spouses who are licensed attorneys in other states to practice law here.

A new rule will allow spouses of active-duty service members to apply for a temporary law license valid for up to three years without having to take the Connecticut Bar Exam, which prospective attorneys have to pass before practicing law in the state. The new rule, formally adopted at the end of June at the annual meeting of the state's Superior Court judges, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Connecticut is the 26th state to pass such a rule, according to the Military Spouse J.D. Network, which is advocating for all 50 states to adopt the initiative.

"This is a very unique way that the legal community can show support to military families," said Karen Scanlan, state licensing director for the Military Spouse J.D. Network.

Applicants must be licensed to practice law in another U.S. state or territory, be in good standing, meet the educational requirements to take the bar exam in Connecticut, and can't have failed the Connecticut bar exam within the past five years.

"It allows the process to move along a lot quicker," said Jonathan Klein, an attorney and longtime member of the Veterans' and Military Affairs Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, who led the effort behind the new rule. Klein, who is a retired Army reserve lieutenant colonel, said the effort took two years to craft the language and garner support.

The new rule might make the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, for example, a more appealing duty station. Klein called it an "important factor" when personnel request where they want to be stationed. It also promotes retention within the military.

"If personnel find it difficult for their spouses to find work, they're more likely to give up what they otherwise planned to do," Klein added.

Supporters of the initiative say it is an important quality-of-life issue for military spouses who often face tough decisions about whether to stay behind and maintain their career or relocate with their spouse.

"The numbers we're talking about are very, very small. But to those very small number of people, it makes a world of difference," said Emily Trudeau, chairwoman of the Veterans' and Military Affairs Section of the Connecticut Bar Association.

Trudeau said it's not likely that those impacted by the new rule would get into trusts and estates law, for example, which requires a longstanding relationship with a client.

"What we're going to see here is more real estate transaction attorneys or maybe some family law practices or military court martial defense," she said.

The issue of frequent relocations and state licensing procedures is not unique to military spouses practicing law. Spouses in other professions such as health care or academics face similar obstacles. Trudeau said the Military and Veterans Affairs Section decided to focus first on law licenses since "we have influence in that sphere." But she sees it opening the door for changes to other regulated professions.

j.bergman@theday.com

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