A rule adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday will allow attorneys living in the state who are spouses of military members stationed here to temporarily practice law without taking the state-administered uniform bar exam.
Rule 712A allows an attorney who has been admitted to practice law in another state or the District of Columbia, and who is married to a military service member stationed in Kansas, to be admitted to practice law in Kansas without a written examination. The rule takes effect Thursday.
Two Supreme Court justices spoke with The Hays Daily News about the rule Friday afternoon. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justice Marla Luckert were in town Friday for a ceremony in which the Hays chapter of the Marine Corps League made Nuss, a Marine veteran, an honorary member.
Military families in which the spouse is a lawyer face a financial burden because the attorney cannot practice until the bar exam is passed, Nuss said, or they face the choice of living separately so the attorney spouse can continue to practice. The rule is intended to ease those hardships, he said.
“We wanted to show our support for the military and their sacrifices, and this is something we can do to show that support,” Nuss said.
The court, which under the state constitution has general administrative authority over the entire judicial branch, has studied the issue for more than a year, he said.
The rule was proposed in 2014 by the 10-member Kansas Board of Law Examiners, which comprises judges and lawyers.
“It was not an easy thing to say, ‘Yes that makes sense,’ because we want to be fair to our Kansas lawyers who did have to take the bar exam and pass it,” Nuss said.
Eighteen states have already passed similar rules, and 13 more have proposed or are investigating admission of military spouses, according to a press release from the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration.
“We looked at how other states were handling this and looked at other rules, and tried to then develop a rule that brought together what we saw as good parts of all of them,” Luckert said.
Making sure that Kansans are served well in their legal representation was also taken into consideration, she said. The testing conducted by other states, the attorney’s character and a background check will all be considered to admit an attorney, she said.
In addition, the attorneys will work with a Kansas lawyer so if their spouse is transferred to another state, the clients will have continuity in their legal representation.
Nuss said Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt offered input for the court’s consideration.
Earlier this year, the three were at a ceremony at Fort Leavenworth and conversation turned to the proposal.
“They said it would be a really big deal in the military and for morale if you could do it,” Nuss said.
A great deal of public comment was also received on the proposal, Luckert said.
“From day one we were motivated to make it happen if we could,” Luckert said. “We were obviously always concerned that Kansans receive high quality legal services, but we knew that could be accomplished in some way and yet support our military families.”