The Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG Corps), which encompasses the career path for military lawyers, has been popularized by the television show JAG, the film A Few Good Men, and a host of other pop cultural touchstones. If you're looking to serve your country as a lawyer, consider the JAG Corps.
What Is the JAG Corps?
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 those under him or her are considered to be Judge Advocates. These individuals both defend and prosecute military personnel, using the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). JAG Corps officers who accrue many years of experience, often become judges--in both court-martials and courts of inquiry.
The UCMJ is a detailed body of law that has governed the U.S. armed forces since 1951. The UCMJ was modestly updated in 2008, to incorporate changes made by the President (via executive orders) and to include the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2006 and 2007. The UCMJ differs 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?
There are two main paths lawyers may take to join the JAG Corps. The first is for law students to apply to the JAG Corps upon completion of law school. Applicants must have passed the bar exam, and must be prepared to enter Officer Training. The second path is for licensed and experienced attorneys to join the armed forces. Such candidates must likewise enter Officer Training. From there, each branch differs as follows:
Entry into the Army JAG Corps (founded by George Washington in 1775) occurs through Direct Commission. Commissioned individuals enter the Judge Advocate Officer Basic Training Course, which is split into two phases. The first is the Direct Commissioned Course (DCC) Phase--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, at the University of Virginia. Those who complete the Judge Advocate Officer Basic Training Course then enter Active Duty for a required four years.
To become an officer in the JAG Corps in the Navy, this branch of the military must offer hopefuls a commission, after which time they enter Officer Development School (ODS), where they receive the rank of Ensign, and their active duty pay and benefits begin. Located in Newport, Rhode Island, ODS is specifically tailored to those entering the Navy as officers. Once completed, candidates enter Naval Justice School, to learn the UCMJ and the specific types of law they'll likely have to practice. T
The Air Force has four different entry programs into the JAG Corp. The first is the student option, where candidates apply as either a 1L or 2L, and commit to completing Active Duty as a member of the JAG Corps after graduating law school and passing the bar. The second program entails licensed attorneys directly entering the JAG Corps. The third option is for Active Duty military members to go on to law school and return to Active Duty as a JAG Corps officers. The fourth option is for experienced attorneys to work part-time with the Air Force JAG Corps, while maintaining their civilian jobs. All candidates must attend the five-week Commissioned Officer Training program, to learn Air Force leadership, before their four-year Active Duty commitment begins.
There are two ways to enter the JAG Corps as a Marine. The first is the PCL-Law program--the Marine Corps equivalent to the student entry program. Students complete the ten-week Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, either during the summer before law school, or the 1L or 2L summer. Candidates then receive the rank of Second Lieutenant and are placed on Inactive Duty pending completion of law school. Upon graduation, students must take the first scheduled bar exam in any state, and must report LSAT scores of 150+. After passing the bar, students enter the Basic School--a six-month intensive basic training for the Marine Corps, then join JAG Corps members from the Navy at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. Students are then assigned their first duty station. The second option for entering the Marine JAG Corps is through the OCC-Law program, which is open to licensed attorneys, who must have completed law school, passed a state bar, and earned a 150+ on the LSAT.
Unlike the other military branches, there is only one way to enter the Coast Guard JAG Corps—as a Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL). Final year law students and licensed attorneys may enter the Coast Guard this way. After commissioning, they must attend the 4-5 week long Direct Commission Officer course in New London, Connecticut, before attending a ten-week Basic Lawyer Class at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. The first assignment of a four year of active duty commitment then begins.
So if you’re interested in serving your country and practicing in an interesting area of the law, consider joining the JAG Corp, where Tom Cruise just may show up for one of your opening arguments!