If you think administering the Uniform Code of Military Justice across the Navy is just the work of a few lawyers with silver or gold on their shoulder-boards, think again.
This globe-spanning organization, like its sister services, is ripe with the potential for slip-ups and punishments (how can you not be, with so many employees?) as well as the personal legal needs of thousands of sailors and their families. Just like civilian lawyers, those in the Navy's Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps need lots of help from paralegals -- referred to as the Legalman rating in the Navy -- to research the minutiae of cases, prepare and file documents, provide court reporting, and manage legal offices.
Although it's essentially an administrative job, the duties of a paralegal in the Navy can have far-reaching consequences not only for sailors but for the naval institution. That's why the Navy requires prospective legalmen to prove a certain level of maturity and experience by restricting the career to those who've already been in the Navy for a few years (not more than ten) and earned the E-4 paygrade (or are in grade E-3 and eligible for promotion).
The Navy doesn't explicitly require paralegal hopefuls to come from any particular career, but being a competent administrator will get a lot of basic knowledge out of the way and give you more time to concentrate on learning the complicated legal aspects of the trade. Enlisting first as a yeoman can't hurt: A 2010 memo from the Navy Judge Advocate General stipulated potential legalmen should "[p]ossess the general administrative knowledge and skills required of an E-4 serving in the Yeoman rating." It ensures that new paralegal trainees are already familiar with commonplace tasks like organizing naval filing systems and drafting naval letters, memos, and other documents.
Further, to become legalmen sailors must be US citizens, have good written and oral communication skills, normal hearing, type at least 40 words per minute, and possess a combined score of 105 on the verbal expression and mathematics knowledge portions of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). They must also have a clean legal slate for three years before joining the rating, demonstrate eligibility for a secret security clearance, and have six college credits in English.
Sailors who pass all the hurdles to switching into a paralegal career will attend 11 weeks of training at the Naval Justice School aboard the naval base at Newport, Rhode Island. According to the JAG career portal, instruction through lecture and practical application covers "court-martial procedures, legal assistance, and administrative, civil, operational and procedural law." For those looking to earn civilian credentials, they also note that the course is worth 10 college credits in "Ethics; Introduction to Law; Emerging Technology in the Law Office; and Legal Research and Writing."
Certifications and Career Outlook
Although Navy legalmen should all eventually shoot for a two- or four-year degree in their career field to improve their job prospects later on, Legal Careers Guide Sally Kane also notes that "[m]any paralegals are enhancing their professional status through paralegal certification," and that in most cases, such a certification "require[s] a paralegal to pass an examination and possess at least one year of experience in the field."
The experience portion of that requirement should be no trouble since the Navy will keep you gainfully employed after investing in your paralegal training (not to mention all the pay and benefits it costs to maintain a sailor.) On the examination end, Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) lists five certification exams that are all eligible for Navy funds upon application:
- Certified Legal Assistant or Paralegal through the National Association of Legal Assistants
- Certified Legal Manager through the Association of Legal Administrators
- Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (Criminal Law) through Legal Secretaries International Inc.
- Certified Professional Paralegal through the National Association of Legal Secretaries
- Paralegal Competency Exam (PACE) Registered Paralegal through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations