Army Judge Advocates: About Their History and Importance

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When most people think of the Army, they inevitably think of war and weaponry, tanks and jets. What most don’t consider—at least at first—is that legal issues don’t stop once you join the military. On the contrary, the military needs to have a strict and consistent legal arm, to defend against both external and internal conflict.

General George Washington understood this to be true, and thus created the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps less than a month after independence had been pried from the clutches of the British. Today, the JAG Corps represents an incredibly important arm of the military, ensuring all branches have the legal support to complete their daily objectives.

JAG Corps Structure and Requirements 

Each branch of the military has its own arm of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, with the Army’s branch being the oldest. During the 20th century, the decision was made for each branch to have its own division, resulting in the structure we have now. 

The Army JAG Corps is headed by none other than the Army Judge Advocate General, overseeing all legal operations within this branch.  The Judge Advocate General is appointed by the U.S President and serves a four-year term roughly coinciding with each president. Holding the rank of lieutenant general, the Judge Advocate General has a great deal of responsibility and oversight duties.  The Judge Advocate General holds the same rank as the Army Chief of Engineers and Surgeon General.

Underneath The Judge Advocate General are positions of leadership such as the Deputy Judge Advocate, the Chief Judge of the U.S Army Court of Appeals, and the Commander of The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS).  Like any other division of the military, there is a stratification of leadership to ensure accountability and results. However, the vast majority of the 10,000 Soldiers in the Army JAG Corps are Judge Advocates (JAs) and paralegals.

The easiest description for an Army Judge Advocate is a lawyer/attorney for the Army. However, unlike some lawyers in the private sector, JAs will receive experience in many areas of the law, as opposed to staying within one sector.  Army Judge Advocates focus on international/operational law, fiscal law, intelligence law, criminal law, civil/administrative law, and more. Not to mention members of the JAGC traveling to countries all over the world, such as Afghanistan, Italy, South Korea, and Germany.

How Do I Become An Army Lawyer?

To become an Army JAG, you’ll first have to attend and graduate from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school.  While in school, you will likely be given the opportunity to interview with Army screening officers who will determine if you are a good fit for the JAGC.  

2nd-year law students have the opportunity to experience a summer internship with the Army and can be paid up to $7000 for two months on an Army base anywhere in the world. If you perform well in this internship, you significantly increase the likelihood of being selected to the JAG Corps.

Once you have received your Juris Doctorate (J.D.), you are eligible to become part of JAG. However, you will still have to meet other Army standards, like security clearance, fitness/medical assessments, Officer courses and leadership, combat, and marksmanship tactics.  If you perform well in these areas, you may see action in the courtroom in as little as a few months to a year and develop a specialization.

JAG officers will start at a little under $45,000 in pay as of 2019, but generally are promoted to captain quickly and are awarded a pay raise to $51,000.  This pay does not include allowances for housing and general subsistence. The Army is nearly always looking for more JAG officers, so you will gain invaluable experience in the Army that may not be available in the civilian sector.

Tips For Landing A Job In JAG

As stated above, one of the best ways to ensure entry into Army JAGC is to participate in a summer internship.  You will have the opportunity to work with current JAs and paralegals, learn the structure and norms of military law, and develop a network within the Army.

It also helps to be sincere and firm in your motivations, abilities, and willingness to be a part of a team.   There is no minimum GPA or LSAT score for the Army. While those will likely play some role, Army screeners are looking for your characteristics as a person just as much as your skills as a law student.   Being confident, honest, and knowledgeable will go a long way for your interview and application.

Lastly, it is important to ensure you stay in physical shape.  Although you will be an Army lawyer, you will still need to fulfill the normal requirements to join the Army. Many candidates are rejected simply because they are not fit enough, both in JAG and in the military as a whole.

Matthew James Kozik, Experienced Judge Advocate 

The Matthew James, PLLC is headed by a former active duty Judge Advocate.   He served as a Judge Advocate primary focusing on complex litigation as a prosecutor and defense counsel.   During his time in the Army, he has received several military awards and currently serves as a defense counsel in the Army Reserve JAGC.

If you need criminal military law advice or would like more info about Judge Advocates, then give our firm a call to schedule an appointment.

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