Mighty Milspouse: When a lawyer fell in love with a soldier
Briana Stolley graduated from Ohio State Law School in 2001 and was just getting her feet wet as an associate attorney in Cincinnati when it happened. She fell in love with a soldier.
“We met doing a 5k run of all things,” she laughed. “He was working on a green to gold program [enlisted to officer] at the university and I had no background knowledge of the military. Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about moving or how getting involved with him could impact my career.”
In 2003, her soldier got a 90-day notice he was deploying to Iraq.
“I was young and in love. We cobbled together a wedding in nine days and thought we’d just do something bigger and better when he got back. But we never did because it was so perfect,” she shared.
With her husband deployed for a year, Stolley made the decision to stay in Ohio and continue working. When he retired, she relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia. It wasn’t easy.
“During that time moving and shifting my career again as an attorney and military spouse was like climbing a mountain,” she admitted. “For every single move we made I had to continue to retake the bar exam. So I took it in Ohio, Georgia, Virginia and Oklahoma.”
In 2011, she joined the Military Spouse J.D. Network to champion licensure reciprocity for military spouses. Through their work, more than 40 states now have exemptions in place for military spouses so they don’t have to go through what she and so many other attorneys like her did.
“People used to ask me why I kept doing this but I just kept telling myself it was going to get easier and we’d get over it. I wouldn’t let myself quit,” she explained.
Stolley had always been passionate about the law but it started with a love for writing. “I was always a good writer and loved my English classes. I actually majored in English for college,” she shared. “My dad was an attorney and I very much admired him. I don't know that I really ever thought about any other career. I sort of always knew that it was the direction I would go.”
Prior to the pandemic taking work remotely, she had championed the concept within her law firms. It was the move to Oklahoma that had her speaking up about the need for more flexibility in the workplace. It worked.
Briana Stolley is proud to be a real estate attorney and partner with Holland & Knight. She shared that the firm has a strong reputation for serving veterans and military families, a factor that led her to sign with them in the first place. In 2020, she won the pro-bono All Star award for her work for those in need.
Navigating the challenges of making a law career portable before military spouse employment was a topic that wasn't for the faint of heart but Stolley said she wouldn’t change a thing. She and her husband just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.
Her advice to other aspiring or practicing military spouse lawyers was direct. “Believe in yourself,” Stolley implored. “And don’t take no for an answer.”