As an attorney for the Board of Veterans Appeals, Libby Jamison, JD, has a front seat to stories of individuals mired in red tape who are struggling to get their needs met by what can feel like an overwhelming bureaucracy.
As a practicing lawyer who’s also the spouse of an active duty Navy pilot, Jamison understands that struggle firsthand and has spent the last decade working to help other men and women in her position overcome it.
“I grew up a Navy brat, and I swore I’d never marry anybody in the military,” explained Jamison, who was named the 2019 Military.com Spouse Changemaker of the Year. “Of course, I met my husband and fell in love and ended up following him around for the 15 years we’ve been married.”
Jamison and her husband moved four times in their first six years of marriage. As a lawyer, that became incredibly challenging. Each state has its own specific rules and requirements for practicing law. Lawyers have to take the bar exam in each state and, once licensed in that state, have to pay annual fees in order to maintain their license.
During the first eight years of their marriage, Jamison and her husband were lucky enough to be stationed in San Diego, where she had the time to complete law school, pass the California bar and eventually start her own office.
“Then, in typical military timing, we got orders to Florida,” Jamison said. “That was the first time I had to face the disruption of my career. I had to decide if I was going to take the Florida bar and get a job there or try to run my law office from afar.”
To make matters more difficult, she didn’t know if they’d be in Florida for six months or two years.
That was when she stumbled across the Military Spouse JD Network, a group of about 600 military spouse and law students. “It was such a ray of hope to discover that I wasn’t alone, to hear the stories of these spouses dealing with similar challenges and knowing I’m not crazy for wanting to have a legal career while supporting my husband’s service,” she explained.
Jamison started to volunteer with MSJD right away as their social media manager. Eventually she joined their board and worked her way up serve as president of the organization from 2016 to 2018.
“The more I got involved and knew the impact the organization had on me, the more I wanted other spouses to feel the same thing—to know that they weren’t alone,” she said.
Jamison began to focus on licensing—one of the biggest barriers for law-practicing military spouses. “It’s frustrating to know that we have the skills and the talents and the ability and to be told time and again by licensing bodies that we can’t use that skill because we haven’t jumped through [that state’s] hoops,” Jamison declared. “Even in states that have reciprocity so you can easily transfer a license, it can still be a very time-consuming process. And it’s very expensive.”
MSJD helped create a proposed model which states that as long as an attorney is in good standing in one jurisdiction, and they are only coming into a new jurisdiction because of a servicemember’s deployment, that lawyer will be given a temporary permit. That permit will allow them to practice law in that state for as long as the servicemember is stationed there. To date, 36 states and the Virgin Islands have adopted versions of it.
Even if licensing barriers are removed, spouses still have to battle with the stigma attached to hiring them.
“The perception is that they’re always going to move on,” Jamison explained. “But with technology today … where remote work is a possibility, military spouses can be really loyal employees. Some characteristics we share are resiliency, flexibility and the ability to organize a cross-country move at the drop of a hat.”
Jamison found just such an employer three years ago when she and her husband landed in DC.
“I was a veterans’ legal career fair and the Board of Appeals were interviewing,” she said. “I got really lucky and got to start at BVA. They have a fantastic remote work program.”
As a BVA attorney adviser, Jamison reviews claims files along with the evidence submitted by veterans and their representatives and prepares proposed decisions for BVA judges to consider. Jamison spent a year in the BVA office in DC getting trained and, once her husband received a permanent change of station back to San Diego, she was able to continue working for BVA remotely.
“It’s a great way to retain talent, since not everybody wants to stay in DC or can stay in DC,” she said.
The licensing barriers that people face when changing jurisdictions is not limited to the legal profession, which is why Jamison helped found missionLICENSE in February 2019. The organizationprovides assistance to anyone trying to navigate the bureaucracy of jurisdictional licensing. “We want to take the experiences we had advocating in those 37 jurisdictions and applying it more broadly. We would hear from teachers and nurses and cosmetologists. I think it’s up to about a quarter of the population whose jobs require some kind of occupational license. Which is a massive increase. It was 5% in the 1950s. Some states license florists and travel agents and tree-trimmers.”
“MissionLICENSE helps people one-on-one understand the licensing structure, then we help them tell their story to the licensing board, which we’ve found to be very powerful,” she added. “If you can explain your story; your reason for moving—that can be really helpful in moving to that new jurisdiction.”