I have a lot of titles in my life. Attorney. Wife. Mom. Sister. Daughter. Yogini. Derby Girl (Yes, it’s true!). But no title has affected me more than Military Spouse. It was a quick decision to get married at the Justice of the Peace in small-town West Texas two days before my spouse’s first deployment and right before my last semester of law school. I wore jeans. He was still in uniform. The only witnesses were the judge and the clerk.
What I thought was crazy turned out to be commonplace in the military. Naïve, I had no idea how much the title Military Spouse would affect my career. Thirteen years later, we now have two kids, and a ninth deployment on the horizon. Let it be clear that I am beyond grateful for the many unique opportunities that military life has afforded us, but that does not mean that it has always been easy.
A recent survey of military spouse attorneys by the Military Spouse JD Network found that one of the biggest hurdles for members is a lack of portable employment and that one out of every two respondents lived apart from their spouse to maintain their legal career. I am one of those people. Frankly, living apart for three years not only affected our marriage, but affected my spouse’s desire to remain in the military. Lack of portable employment becomes a military retention issue which, in turn, becomes a national security issue. Career-driven people often marry other career-driven people.
The military doesn’t let you choose where you live. And, it doesn’t always move you to locations ripe with employment opportunity in our two-income society. For the Air Force, the need of unencumbered air space often translates to remote locations with small populations. We have been assigned to bases in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Germany, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. Licensing challenges aside, frequent moves don’t necessarily align with career growth.
I stumbled upon freelance lawyering. But without this option I likely wouldn’t be practicing today. When I graduated in 2006, remote lawyering and freelance lawyering were virtually unheard of. However, technology and subsequent generations have changed the employment landscape tremendously. Companies such as LAWCLERK are allowing attorneys flexible scheduling with wide-open geographic availability. Others are noticing. We are no longer tied to living where we work, which is wonderful for military spouses, who face much greater un- and under-employment rates than the general population and struggle to maintain a career.
In Germany, my federal job was eliminated due to budget cuts in 2011. That left us with three more years stationed overseas and zero local employment opportunities. I was approached by a friend who was looking to fill a remote, non-legal, independent contractor position with a growing software company. I took it! Since that time, I have expanded my role and now work as their Associate General Counsel, continuing in a remote, independent contractor capacity. Getting this first client was pure luck, but it also opened my eyes to what was out there. I continued building my practice by seeking freelance assignments from firms across the country and was also able to work my schedule around having two children and a spouse with an unpredictable schedule.
Freelance lawyering hasn’t always the obvious choice, but it has been perfect for my life and lifestyle.
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Whether or not you’ve considered remote, freelance lawyering, it’s worth considering. For someone who needs flexibility, portable employment, and loves to be in control, it’s the perfect choice.
About the author - Michelle Richart is an attorney licensed in Texas and Colorado and was recently accepted to the Air Force Reserve JAG Corps. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Military Spouse JD Network, a bar association for military spouses, and is an advocate for military spouse employment issues. Michelle also volunteers her time with Hiring our Heroes, the Military Spouse Career Coalition, and has worked with the American Immigration Lawyers Association Military Assistance Program and Yoga for Vets. She currently lives with her husband and two children in Colorado Springs where she also teaches yoga and plays roller derby.