Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
New Military Spouse Rule ‘Opens Doors’
Colorado is one of the first states to streamline its attorney admissions process for military spouses, helping people like Evelyn Guevara.
By JAMES CARLSON
When Evelyn Guevera’s husband was reassigned by the Air Force in 2009, she faced a tough decision.
The attorney had already moved twice for her military husband, Richard, already studied and passed the bar exam twice in two states and already submitted to the arduous admissions process twice. The idea of spending weeks or months memorizing flash cards about torts for a third time in as many years? Well, it was too much.
So she chose to start her family. Her career was put on hold for four years.
“It was so frustrating not to be able to grow professionally,” she said.
But in July 2014, her luck changed. After a brief stint in Washington, D.C., Richard was reassigned again, this time to Colorado where the Supreme Court was considering a streamlined admissions process for military spouses. On Sept. 1, 2014, the Military Spouse Certification went into effect. Three weeks later, Evelyn was admitted to practice becoming one of the first admittees under the state’s new rule.
Colorado is one of the first states in the country to make special accommodations for military spouses. According to the Military Spouse JD Network, only 12 jurisdictions have such a measure, but the country is moving fast to catch up. An additional dozen states are considering changes.
Colorado’s attorney admissions process is set up to protect the public by thoroughly vetting every applicant. But military spouses might have to do that multiple times in various states over just a few years. Jim Coyle, Attorney Regulation Counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court who oversees attorney admissions, said the state’s rule change is a recognition of these unique mobility requirements.
“We want to do everything we can to ensure the attorney spouses of military personnel are supported in Colorado,” Coyle said.
The new Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 204.4 removes many of the hoops that traditional applicants have to go through. There is no bar exam and only a truncated character and fitness review. As a member of the Military Spouse JD Network, Evelyn has heard about other states’ requirements — “horrendous,” she said.
Under Colorado’s new rule, however, any spouse or legally recognized domestic partner of a military service member may practice law as long as they prove that they are a military spouse, prove they are in good standing in any jurisdiction in which they’re admitted, and attend a professionalism class taught by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.
“It was pretty straightforward,” Evelyn said.
Evelyn never thought she’d run into the issues she did.
She grew up in New York state, got her undergraduate degree there and was attending Syracuse University College of Law when she met Richard. He was looking for jobs in litigation when someone suggested looking at the military. He did and was accepted. After initial on-the-job and physical training, he was stationed in Tucson, Arizona.
Meanwhile, Evelyn graduated law school in 2006, took the bar exam and started working for a private law firm in Westchester County north of Manhattan. But within just a year, she decided to move to Arizona where she and Richard got married. After taking another bar exam and going through that state’s admissions process, she began clerking for U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Sarah Curley in Phoenix. Following that, she got a job at a bankruptcy law firm, but just months after receiving that offer, Richard was reassigned, this time to New Mexico.
Evelyn faced a classic conundrum: Family or career. She wanted to have children but also wanted to do pro bono work on the side. But New Mexico, like most states in the country at the time, didn’t have a reciprocal agreement with Arizona and didn’t have a military spouse exception. Without being licensed, Evelyn couldn’t do pro bono work.
She wouldn’t change her decision to have a family, “but if there had been more flexibility in the rules, I would have done things differently.”
Her four years in New Mexico still proved fruitful. She had two little girls and worked at New Mexico Legal Aid — as a paralegal. And when Richard was ordered to Washington, D.C., Evelyn did pro bono work and became heavily involved in the Military Spouse JD Network. She even helped 12 of the network’s members get sworn in before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But she’s happy to be in Colorado now, working full-time. Through her contacts, she was able to secure a job as a contracts attorney for the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Carson. And she offers her expertise pro bono on the side. She said volunteering is one of the best ways to get to know a new community.
She thinks Colorado’s large military population makes it a prime location for the military spouse certification. She said she knows a lot of attorney spouses who have been admitted in other states might want to work in Colorado but that balancing kids and new housing situations make it difficult to get full licensure.
“There’s no need to start from the beginning,” she said, “Colorado’s admissions approach is great. It just opens so many doors.”
To learn more about the Military Spouse Certification, read CRCP 204.4 or call the Office of Attorney Admissions at (303) 928-7770.
James Carlson is the Information Resources Coordinator for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.