Kate Kotschwar received her law degree from Hamline Law in 2003, before she met and fell in love with husband Zachary, a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy. Now, married to an active duty service member, Kotschwar has had to put a hold on her desire to practice law.
Kotschwar is not the only military spouse who is a lawyer unable to practice law. That’s why she chose to share her story with the Hamline Law Alumni Advocate – so readers could be aware of one of the less visible, but significant, sacrifices made by military families.
As a military spouse and a lawyer, Kotschwar’s frequent moves make seeking a new license in each state financially burdensome. And moving every couple of years makes it nearly impossible to accumulate the years of practice needed in any one place to waive into a new jurisdiction (if the new state even allows that).
Kotschwar and her husband were stationed first in Hawaii, and they moved to San Diego in 2011. Kotschwar considers herself lucky that she’s been able to hold onto her legal editing job at Thomson Reuters (along with her Minnesota law license) but looks forward to the day when she is able to start practicing her chosen career.
Changes are coming. Kotschwar reports, “Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are supporting a military spouse employment program to support all of us who are subject to occupational licensing across state lines.”
A typical military career is 15-20 years. That’s a long time for an attorney spouse to be stymied by licensing issues.
“Michelle Obama can relate,” said Kotschwar. While Michelle Obama herself had a high-powered career in law, “she is now in a position where her husband’s job takes priority.”
Kotschwar points out that those in her predicament have formed the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN), a 501(c)3 aimed at calling attention to the issue, and making change happen.
Last February, the American Bar Association unanimously passed a resolution urging bar admission authorities to adopt rules, regulations and procedures to serve the unique needs of lawyers like Kotschwar who move frequently in support of the nation’s defense. In July, the Conference of Chief Justices voted to support a resolution for the admission of military spouse attorneys without examination.
Now, MSJDN members are working in at least 10 states to persuade bar authorities to relax their rules for military spouses. Some states have proposed allowing lawyers like Kotschwar to work in a mentor/mentee position with a full-time practicing attorney to be able to waive into bar admission. Others are considering allowing a lawyer’s practice time in each state to be tallied cumulatively to allow waivers. Unfortunately, no one is working on this issue in Minnesota because it is one of only two or three states without an active-duty military presence.
Kotschwar praised Kimberly Espinosa, a University of St. Thomas law alum, who worked tirelessly to convince Idaho to become the first state in the nation to change its rules for military spouses last July. Idaho Bar Commission Rule 229 Military Spouse Provisional Admission allows qualified attorneys to apply for admission to the Idaho State Bar without examination while in the state due to military orders.
Legal licensing notwithstanding, Kotschwar enjoys life as a military spouse. Other than her father and grandfather’s military service before she was born, she had no military experience. And despite all the moving around, Kotschwar enjoys the opportunity to travel extensively and always be welcomed into the larger “military family.”
“The friends that I have made are extraordinary people,” Kotschwar said. “I have even greater respect for sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who make significant sacrifices, as volunteers,” to protect and defend our country.
Getting posted to Pearl Harbor on Oahu was a treat for the lifelong Midwesterner.
“It was a beautiful place,” Kotschwar said. “What an amazing experience for a Minneapolis kid to become scuba-certified and go night-diving with manta rays.” While in Hawaii, the couple took advantage of the opportunity to visit Australia as well.
Since 2011, Kotschwar and her husband have enjoyed life in San Diego. Connecting with her alma mater, Kotschwar was happy to learn that she can earn CLE credits to maintain her Minnesota license at low or no cost through Hamline Law’s free CLE webcasts for alumni.
The Military Spouse JD Network is an international network of legal professionals improving the lives of military families.
Military Spouse JD Network