Are you a military spouse considering law school? In some ways, it’s a natural fit. You likely already have useful skills that could apply to your career as a lawyer: you’ve organized six PCS moves, negotiated reimbursements with TriCare, or successfully advocated for your EFMP child’s education. You’re also pretty familiar with speaking almost entirely in acronyms and military jargon, so what’s one more “language” to learn? But is it a good idea? The answer is, as always: it depends!
Is Law School a Good Fit?
Before you buy your LSAT books and start working on your applications, think hard about whether law school is the right fit. Being a lawyer is not always the most flexible or portable career (in fact, it’s usually the opposite). This isn’t to say that no military spouse should choose law school, or that lawyers should be discounting military members when choosing a spouse (I wouldn’t be married to my husband if that were the case!). It just means you will have to figure out how a career that often requires a strong local network and expensive and time-consuming licensure processes fits in with your lifestyle.
Choosing the Right Time
If you’ve already made the decision that the law is for you, your next step will be to figure out when you’re going to make the leap. Law school is (usually) three years long, so timing it between PCS moves may be your best bet. If you can’t make that work, then what? Should you geo-bach? (How’s that for military jargon?)
For those unfamiliar with the term, “geo-bach” is the unofficial word for a service member leaving her family behind and heading on assignment as a “geographic bachelor” (or bachelorette!). Often, a service member will “geo-bach” for a shorter assignment in order to avoid disrupting a spouse’s career or children’s schooling. Unless you can make the timing work just right, you may have to consider geo-baching for some or all of your law school career.
Your other option, of course, would be to transfer. While this isn’t a deal-breaker, transferring comes with its own set of challenges, so if there is any way to stay put and focus for the full three years of school, that’s probably your best bet.
Choosing the Right School
If you have made the decision to go, and you are ready to make it happen – now you just have to figure out where to go to law school! Deciding where to go to school is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your career, so this isn’t something to take lightly! For some military spouses, your duty station may dictate your choices. But just because you only have a few options, don’t blindly apply to the only schools available to you before you do your homework.
Look at publicly-available metrics to compare schools, and consider the employment statistics, financial information, and bar performance. Call the schools’ Admissions departments and ask them your burning questions, including what resources they may have to support you as a military family. Think long and hard about where you want to practice and whether the law schools you are considering successfully launch lawyers in that jurisdiction or in that career. Talk to lawyers who do what you think you want to do, and ask them to be honest: will a degree from this school get me where I need to be?
Succeeding in Law School as a Military Spouse
As a military spouse, you’re most likely going to be a non-traditional student, whether you’re juggling kids, dealing with deployments, handling your own reservist duties, or maybe all three! Time management will be the key to your success. You’ll need to use the skills and strengths you have gained as a military spouse to meet the challenge of law school.
The good news is, you’re not alone! There are thousands of military spouse lawyers and law students across the U.S. in the Military Spouse J.D. Network, who have banded together to support each other. This group advocates for licensing accommodations for military spouse attorneys, educates the public, encourages hiring, and provides a network to connect. Many law schools also have affinity groups for students who are affiliated with the military, which can be a great source of support and connection as you face the special challenges of navigating law school with a military spouse.
This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Although I became a military spouse after I had already begun practicing as a lawyer, I’m intimately family with the challenges of being a military spouse attorney! I also passionately believe that military spouses shouldn’t give up on having the career they want just because they fell in love with someone serving our country.
(This is the second in a two-part series; if you’re a military veteran or active duty service member heading into law school, check out the first post here.)
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