What is a Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the Army?
The JAG Corps (Judge Advocate General’s Corps) consists of licensed lawyers and judges who represent the Army and soldiers in legal matters. A JAG lawyer is another way to serve your country. The JAG Corps includes active-duty service members and reservists.
As a licensed attorney, you may serve as a judge in a court-martial. You may also serve as a prosecutor or defense counsel to soldiers and officers during court-martials. In addition, military lawyers provide legal advice to service members in other areas of law.
Requirements for Becoming an Army Judge Advocate General
You must meet specific requirements before becoming a JAG in the Army. First, you must typically make a minimum four-year service commitment.
Requirements for the JAG Corps include:
- Must have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association
- Must be admitted to the bar in any state, territory, or commonwealth of the United States
- Must be a United States citizen
- Must meet military medical fitness standards
- Must meet the requirements for secret security clearance
- Must be under the age of 42 years old when commissioned, although age waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis
JAG lawyers are not required to complete Basic Training with enlisted Army soldiers. Instead, they attend a six-week Direct Commission Course (DCC).
The DCC prepares the lawyer to serve as an Officer by providing training in weapons and leadership and an intensive physical course. After completing DCC, lawyers attend the Judge Advocate Basic Training Course, which is a ten and one-half week course. The course teaches lawyers about every aspect of the JAG Corps, including intensive training in military law.
Upon completing the JAG courses, lawyers may begin practicing law in one of the many Army law offices located throughout the world.
What Types of Cases Does a Judge Advocate General Handle?
Most people associate JAGs with court-martials. They serve as judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers in military courts. However, military lawyers also handle a variety of other legal matters.
For example, JAG lawyers provide legal advice to soldiers, families, and retired military personnel. That includes providing legal advice regarding the laws of host nations when serving abroad.
The JAG Corps also provides legal advice and counsel to Army commanders to ensure compliance with administrative law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Freedom of Information Act, and environmental law. In addition, they also provide legal counsel regarding foreign and domestic laws that affect military operations.
Some JAGs work with the Department of Justice to represent the United States in civil cases. They may work in labor law, providing legal counsel regarding hiring, rating, firing, and disciplining the Army’s civilian employees. Some lawyers work in national security law, including matters related to intelligence, special operations, international law, and constitutional law.
The JAG Corps handle a wide variety of legal matters for the Army and the government. A JAG attorney could receive training and experience in several areas of law or remain in a specific area of law during their entire service.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Judge Advocate General in the JAG Corps?
There are numerous benefits of working as a lawyer in the Army.
The Army helps pay for your education. You can receive student loan repayment of up to $65,000. You can also apply for the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
JAG officers receive competitive pay, health care, dental care, and paid vacation. In addition to basic pay, JAGs receive a basic allowance for housing and subsistence. If they live outside of the United States, they also receive a cost of living allowance.
Officers who continue to serve past their initial four-year commitment can receive a lump sum continuation pay bonus. They also receive additional financial benefits if they serve in combat zones.
Should I Hire a Civilian Criminal Defense Lawyer if I Have a Military Lawyer?
A JAG lawyer is similar to being appointed a public defender in criminal court. Even though you have a military lawyer, you have the right to consult a civilian criminal defense attorney. A civilian-military lawyer can represent you in military court and work with your JAG attorney to present the best possible defense.
One important thing to keep in mind is when you will be assigned a JAG lawyer during a court-martial. The Army does not appoint a JAG lawyer until you are officially charged.
Therefore, it is best to consult with a civilian-military attorney if you want legal advice and representation during the initial investigation. Otherwise, you could make mistakes during the investigation that could hurt your chances of winning a court-martial.