Removing Spouse Career Barriers: Libby Jamison

Libby Jamison, right, speaks at a Military Spouse JD Network event. (Courtesy of Libby Jamison)
Libby Jamison, right, speaks at a Military Spouse JD Network event. (Courtesy of Libby Jamison)

When military spouse attorney Libby Jamison took the bar exam in two states after law school, she thought she was checking all the boxes that would allow her to work.

Long stationed with her Navy husband in California, passing the bar there was imperative to making a career of her chosen profession. And since they planned to return to Washington state eventually and it was a likely next duty station, taking and passing it there made sense as well.

But the military had different plans for her family, as it often does. And the next thing she knew, they were making a permanent change-of-station move to Florida.

Like Jamison, military spouse attorneys know well the challenge of PCSing and moving a law practice. Taking and passing the bar exam costs thousands of dollars and countless hours of study, and is often only worth it if you will be stationed somewhere for the long haul. And since many states don't yet offer reciprocity for those licenses and the rules for those that do vary widely, working without taking the exam in each new state is often not an option.

"I had already taken two bar exams. I did not want to take a third," Jamison said. "I was having an existential crisis because I had spent a lot of money and time going to law school, and I actually liked being a lawyer. I had my professional meltdown."

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That was when she learned about the Military Spouse JD Network, a bar association that supports military spouse attorneys and works with state bar associations to create military-friendly reciprocity rules. She dove headlong into the organization, eventually becoming its president, leading the charge to pass reciprocity rules in California and Washington, two notoriously tricky states, and taking on the goal of quiet yet effective changemaking.

It is for her work in those roles, as well as her position as a leader of the San Diego Military Spouse Empowerment Zone, which helps military spouses find jobs, that has selected Jamison as one of our three finalists for the 2019 Spouse Changemaker of the Year award.

That recognition looks to identify and celebrate individuals -- both spouses and community members -- who have made a sizable, direct impact on a specific area of military life. Jamison's persistent work on behalf of military spouse attorneys nationwide and all military spouse professionals in San Diego has not only created change for the military spouse community, it has helped push forward and keep in the public consciousness the topic of military spouse employment.

After their time in Florida, Jamison and her husband were moved to Washington, D.C., where she was able to get a position with the Department of Veterans Affairs' Board of Veterans Appeals. Because she can keep that job even when she relocates, she no longer has to worry about taking new bar exams.

But she knows other military spouses are not so fortunate. She spends significant time mentoring spouses, helping them tackle move and career challenges.

"It helps to be able to pick up the phone and have a real conversation when stuff goes wrong," she said.

Jamison helps organize and run the annual Homefront Rising event, a non-partisan boot camp in Washington, D.C., for military spouses who are interested in running for office. And she also recently started a small consulting business, Mission License, in partnership with Josie Beets, another military spouse attorney and MSJDN alumna. That company helps both military spouses and civilians in a wide variety of career fields work through the technicalities of transferring their professional licenses across state borders.

Jamison said she sees herself as one changemaker among many, inspired always by the needs of the community.

"There's just so many incredible people in this space who are making changes every day," she said. "We have to own that. ... I think we all -- everyone -- has to pitch in if we're going to make change. It can't be just the White House or just the [U.S. Chamber of Commerce] or just MSJDN. We all have to be changemakers."

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