Want to Be a Military Lawyer? Learn about JAG

Interested in joining the JAG Corps? Here's what you need to know.

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The Judge Advocate General’s Corps (or JAG Corps) encompasses the career path for lawyers in each branch of the military. It has been popularized by both the television show JAG and the movie A Few Good Men, among other pieces of pop culture. Are you looking for a way to serve your country as a lawyer? Look no further than the JAG Corps.

What is the JAG Corps?

In short, the JAG Corps is the legal branch of the military concerned with military justice and military law.

The chief attorney in each branch is the Judge Advocate General, and everyone under him or her is consider a Judge Advocate. Colloquially, however, any military lawyer is considered a JAG. JAGs both defend and prosecute using the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Once a JAG Corps officer has many years of experience, they sometimes become judges in both court martials and courts of inquiry.

The UCMJ

The UCMJ is the body of law that governs the armed forces in the United States. It is incredibly detailed and has been the official set of laws for the armed forces since 1951. There is some recent discussion about reforming parts of the UCMJ, and it was last updated in 2008 to incorporate changes made by the President (executive orders) and to include the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2006 and 2007. It is different from traditional law in that the military uses it to enforce itself, as if it were its own jurisdiction.

How does one join the JAG Corps?

In general, there are two paths for a lawyer to take to join the JAG Corps, although each branch’s details are a little bit different. The first path is for a law student to apply to enter the JAG Corps upon completion of law school. There are some stipulations to that—passing the bar exam, most importantly—and then the young lawyer would enter Officer Training.

The second path is for a licensed attorney to decide to join the armed forces after being out of law school for a while. If selected, the licensed attorney would also enter Officer Training. From there, each branch differs, as detailed below.

Army

The Army JAG Corps has the unique history of being founded by George Washington on July 29, 1775, and the Army JAG Corps has been around ever since. There is only one path to entering the Army JAG Corps—through Direct Commission, which requires that you have completed law school and have been admitted to a state bar. Once you’ve been commissioned, you’ll enter the Judge Advocate Officer Basic Training Course, which is split into two phases. The first is the Direct Commissioned Course (DCC) Phase, which is a six-week basic training for JAGs in Fort Benning, Georgia. The second is the Charlottesville Phase, which is a 10.5 week officer’s course at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, located on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Once you have completed the Judge Advocate Officer Basic Training Course, you will enter Active Duty, which is an initial requirement of four years.

Navy

The Navy has two paths to become an officer in the JAG Corps, as detailed above. As a law student, the first thing you would have to do is pass the bar exam. Then, the Navy may select you and offer a commission. Once you accept the commission, you enter Officer Development School. In Officer Development School, you will be given the rank of Ensign, and your active duty pay and benefits begin. Officer Development School is not traditional basic training—it is specifically for those entering the Navy as officers. It is located in Newport, Rhode Island. Once you have completed Officer Development School, you will enter Naval Justice School, which is also in Newport, Rhode Island. This is where you will learn the UCMJ and the specific types of law you will likely have to practice. Your rank at this point is Lieutenant Junior Grade and Lieutenant in the Navy. Once you have completed Naval Justice School, your first tour of duty will begin. The path of a licensed attorney is similar in many ways—you will attend Officer Development School, then Naval Justice School, and then you’ll start your first tour of duty. The difference is in rank—you start off at Lieutenant Junior Grade in Officer Development School.

Air Force

The Air Force has four different entry programs into the JAG Corp. The first is the student option, where you apply as either a 1L or 2L and commit to completing Active Duty as a member of the JAG Corps after graduation and passing the bar exam. The second program is to enter as a licensed attorney. This is a direct entry program into the JAG Corps. The third option is for an Active Duty military member to go on to law school and return to Active Duty as a JAG Corps officer. There are several different paths within this program, (including the Funded Legal Education Program). The fourth option is for an experienced attorney to work part time with the Air Force JAG Corps while keeping his or her civilian job. No matter which program you take part in, you will attend the five-week Commissioned Officer Training program, which will teach you to be a leader in the Air Force. You will then enter Active Duty, which is a four year commitment.

Marine Corps

Like many of the other branches of the military, there are two ways to enter the JAG Corps as a Marine. The first is called the PCL-Law program, which is the Marine Corps equivalent to the student entry program. Students will complete the ten week Officer Candidate School during either the summer before law school or the 1L or 2L summer. Officer Candidate School for the Marine Corps is in Quantico, Virginia. After OCS, candidates will receive the rank of Second Lieutenant and be placed on Inactive Duty pending completion of law school. Once law school is completed, you must take the first scheduled bar exam in any state, and must also report LSAT scores of 150+. Once you pass the bar, you will enter the Basic School, which is the six-month intensive basic training for the Marine Corps. Once you’ve passed TBS, you will join JAG Corps members from the Navy at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. Once all of this is completed, you will be assigned to your first duty station. The second option of entering the Marine JAG Corps is through the OCC-Law program, which is open to licensed attorneys. This is a very similar program—you must have been admitted to a state bar, completed law school, and earned a 150+ on the LSAT. You will then enter Officer Candidate School, followed by the Basic School and Naval Justice School before being assigned to your first duty station.

Coast Guard

Unlike the other branches of the military, there is only one way to enter the Coast Guard JAG Corps—as a Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL).  Law students in their final year or licensed attorneys may enter the Coast Guard this way. After commissioning, you would attend the Direct Commission Officer course in New London, Connecticut, which is 4-5 weeks long. Once that has been completed, you would attend a ten-week Basic Lawyer Class at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. You would then report to your first assignment and complete four years of active duty.

If you’re interested in serving your country and practicing in an interesting area of the law, consider joining the JAG Corp! You never know – maybe Tom Cruise will show up for one of your opening arguments. 

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