Find the Best Military Law Jobs in 2023
If serving your country as a lawyer is what you’re passionate about, consider the JAG Corps. Check out our list of the top-rated military law jobs.
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Judge Advocate General's Corps, also referred to as JAG or JAG Corps, encompasses the legal specialty of a military branch concerned with military law and the military justice system. Considering that not many things are as important to the military as the pursuit of justice, it’s no wonder that the rights and obligations of its service members are defended and supported by the top legal minds.
About Military Law Careers
More and more recent law schools and licensed lawyers are pursuing a career as a JAG officer. Available in each of the five US military branches - Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force, these job opportunities give law practitioners a chance to become a part of all legal matters involving the military, which mirrors almost all aspects of civilian law.
Still, JAG jobs aren’t meant for civilians but uniformed service members. These law practitioners must attend officer training as required by their branch of service. They need to meet professional military education requirements and may be called upon to serve on the prosecution in one case while working as a defense counsel for another.
What Do Military Lawyers Do?
As far as day-to-day activities go, a military lawyer's job is similar to that of a civilian lawyer. The primary difference lies in the fact that JAGs represent clientele under the jurisdiction of military courts and law.
Still, Judge Advocate officers handle a variety of legal issues, which may include international law, environmental law, operations law. They may also deal with civilian and military personnel issues.
From trial preparation to post-trial activities, lawyers provide legal counsel every step of the way, regardless of whether they are on the side of the defense or the prosecution.
Duties and Responsibilities
Here’s an overview of all aspects of the job you’ll need to handle if you decide to practice law in the military.
- JAGs formulate legal policies and develop plans for the operation and implementation of executive orders, directives, and federal statutes.
- These law practitioners maintain liaisons with bar associations at the local, state, and national levels to stay up-to-date with current legal trends.
- JAG attorneys represent the United States in civil proceedings before both judicial and administrative tribunals.
- They argue cases before the Court of Military Review or Court of Military Appeals and interpret court decisions, laws, and opinions.
- Members of the US Army JAG Corps (or any other JAG Corps branch) also assist witnesses at hearings.
- JAG lawyers offer professional legal advice to members of the military personnel and their dependents.
- They draft legal documents, such as wills, powers of attorney, and other document types required in the event of litigation.
- A JAG lawyer in the Army or any other military branch also conducts prosecution or defense of members of military personnel brought to trial.
- These law practitioners provide advice on different legal issues concerning international law, operations law, environmental law, legal assistance and preventive law, procurement, claims, military and civilian personnel issues, patents, litigation, military affairs, taxes, and other legal matters.
Types of Jobs for Military Lawyers
Thanks to their comprehensive training and multiple advancement opportunities, JAG attorneys can practice in a wide range of law areas from criminal prosecution and defense to estate planning:
- Army: Judge Advocates are involved in a variety of cases in military justice, international and operational law, civil and administrative law, and contract and fiscal law.
- Navy: Navy JAGs experience diverse legal practice, including the areas of military justice, national security law, legal assistance, environmental law, administrative law, civil litigation, maritime law, and admiralty.
- Air Force: Military attorneys get to practice law in the following fields - air and space law, criminal law, operations law, cyber law, civil administration law, international law, labor law, government contract and commercial Law, claims and tort litigation, environmental and real property law, medical law and legal assistance.
- Coast Guard: JAGs operate in the following ten practice areas: criminal law/military justice, international activities, operations, environmental law, civil advocacy, internal organizational law, procurement law, regulations and administrative law, legal assistance, and legislative support.
- Marine Corps: Marine Corps Judge Advocates usually serve as defense attorneys or federal prosecutors in felony-level courts-martial during their first tour. After that, they have the opportunity to expand their practice into areas such as criminal justice, military operational law, cyber law, or international law.
Much like civilian lawyers, military attorneys spend most of their time in legal offices and courtrooms. However, as military officers, JAGs in the Army (or any other military branch) get to work in offices and military courts across the United States and in duty stations located worldwide. The rotating assignments expose military lawyers to a variety of not only locations (similarly to jobs in international law) but also practice areas and an unrivaled wealth of practical experiences.
Injuries and Illnesses
Considering that most of JAG lawyers’ day-to-day activities take place in a legal office or a courtroom, we can say that this is one of the safest jobs in the Army and other military branches. While the job of an army lawyer isn’t physically demanding and won’t expose you to a considerable risk of certain occupational injuries, it can be emotionally draining. In this context, one of the most common health conditions JAG attorneys suffer from is burnout.
Much like civilian lawyers who work in law firms, most JAG attorneys have a 40-hour workweek. However, work schedules may vary depending on the role and the branch of the military they are working for.
How to Become a Military Lawyer
The pathway to qualifying for a career in military law is somewhat similar to that a lawyer operating in other fields must take - a legal degree is required, and applicants have to pass the bar exam first.
However, starting a career as a military lawyer involves a few additional steps, such as joining the military, attending the required training, and becoming a part of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. Note that military attorneys are always officers - no other enlisted members can serve in such a capacity.
Much like attorneys operating in other areas of law, military law career seekers should have certain soft skills if their goal is to land top-rated jobs in the field. Here’s an overview of the essential qualities that are in demand:
- Research skills and attention to detail: A military lawyer must possess a profound understanding of all parts of both civil and military law. In addition to constantly researching legal concepts, making sure to explore every facet of a given case is of utmost importance. Actions and advice of these attorneys may not only affect the individuals involved in the legal cases but also reflect on the military law practitioners’ branch of service and the US government itself.
- Communication skills: You won’t have a successful career as a JAG attorney unless you can speak effectively in public and write clearly and concisely. In other words, military lawyers must possess advanced communication skills and be capable of avoiding ambiguities both in the courtroom and otherwise.
- Interpersonal skills: All lawyers must show excellent interpersonal skills and sensitivity to the needs of others, regardless of the legal area they operate in, and JAG attorneys are no exception. Whether they represent a young enlisted soldier or a high-ranking commander, military lawyers should be comfortable communicating with everyone.
- Resilience: JAG officers must be able to work well under pressure while keeping a cool decorum. It’s also important to mention that many military law jobs come with long working hours and tight deadlines.
- Persuasiveness: Military lawyers’ scope of work involves having multiple difficult conversations every day. The power of persuasion is essential no matter if you’re dealing with your client, a judge, or another attorney.
- Problem-solving skills: Much like all other legal areas, military law is strictly based on logic, facts, and evidence. That’s why a JAG officer must be able to think fast and solve problems quickly but cannot afford to be casual in any of their dealings.
Becoming an attorney in the military combines two careers. As a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, you’ll have not only the duties but also the respect and career opportunities of an officer while providing high-quality legal services to active-duty servicewomen and men around the world.
Much like with all other types of attorney jobs, the education path of a military lawyer is lengthy and time-consuming but ultimately highly rewarding.
It starts with applying for undergraduate studies (preferably in a related field), followed by a law degree at an accredited law school or university. After obtaining their Juris Doctor degree, prospective attorneys need to pass the bar exam - an examination required to practice law in the US.
Once you meet these initial educational requirements - which are more or less the same for all attorneys regardless of the area of law they plan to practice in - you’ll need to take a few more steps before getting admitted to the JAG Corps.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
At this point, it’s important to mention that there are two main paths lawyers can take when pursuing law jobs in the military. The first is meant for recent law school graduates - as long as you’ve met the aforementioned educational qualifications, you’ll be able to apply to the Judge Advocate General's Corps right away.
The second path gives experienced lawyers a chance to join the armed forces. Still, keep in mind that both fresh graduates and attorneys with previous experience in other fields of law must go through the enlistment procedure and enroll in Officer Candidate School (OCS), the official training academy for all prospective military officers.
Considering that each of the five branches of military service has its own version of the Judge Advocate General Corps, each service has its unique rules and standards for acceptance for applicants who wish to become military attorneys. Here’s an overview:
- Army: Founded by George Washington in 1775, Army JAG Corps accept prospective lawyers through Direct Commission. Commissioned applicants need to enroll in the two-phase Judge Advocate Officer Basic Training Course. The first phase of training for an army JAG officer, the six-week Direct Commissioned Course (DCC), takes place in Fort Benning, Georgia. The second part is called the Charlottesville Phase. It involves attending the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School at the University of Virginia. Those who complete both phases of the course enter active duty for the required four years. Additionally, applicants must adhere to the physical fitness standards of the US Army and be under the age of 42 at the moment of enrolling in active duty service.
- Navy: Prospective military lawyers in the Navy must be offered a commission. Should they decide to accept it, they receive the rank of Ensign and enter Officer Development School (ODS). Located in Newport, Rhode Island, ODS is tailored to individuals joining the Navy as officers. After completing the five-week course, candidates enter Naval Justice School, where they study the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and learn about the particular types of law they'll have to practice.
- Coast Guard: The list of military law careers also includes options offered by the Coast Guard. Final year law school students and experienced attorneys can apply to serve as Judge Advocates for the US Coast Guard through the Direct Commission program. After commissioning, candidates must attend the Direct Commission Officer course in New London, Connecticut, which lasts four to five weeks. Next, military attorney career seekers will need to enroll in a Basic Lawyer Class at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island, before starting their first four-year active duty commitment.
- Air Force: There are four ways you can become a military lawyer with the US Air Force. The four options include different programs for students, licensed attorneys, and active duty military members who want to obtain a law degree and return to active duty as JAG Corps officers, and experienced attorneys who want to work part-time with the Air Force JAG Corps while keeping their civilian jobs. Regardless of the entry program, all candidates must attend a five-week Commissioned Officer Training course before their four-year active duty service starts.
- Marine Corps: Once again, there are two ways to explore careers in military law as a Marine. The first option, the Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), is offered to students of the first or second year who have been accepted for full-time study at any of the American Bar Association-accredited law schools. The Officer candidate course (OCC) is the second pathway, meant for third-year law students and licensed lawyers.
The typical commitment for all military law jobs is four years of active duty. After that period expires, you can choose to re-enlist or leave the service.
Throughout their first years in the military, Judge Advocates primarily serve as defense attorneys or federal prosecutors in felony-level courts-martial.
In addition to operating in areas such as military justice, legal assistance, and command services, lawyers in the military also get the opportunity to expand their knowledge and practice into specialized areas, including criminal justice, international law, military operational law, and cyber law.
One of the main reasons why fresh law school graduates decide to become Judge Advocates is that this occupation guarantees a career with rotating assignments by both location and practice field.
By becoming a JAG, you’ll receive lots of practical and hands-on experience much quicker than you would as a civilian law practitioner.
Military Lawyer’s Salary
According to the data provided by the US Navy, the salary for active-duty judge advocates starts between $55,000 and $75,000/year for a lieutenant junior and between $65,000 and $95,000/year for a lieutenant. Note that the exact amount may vary depending on when the officer accepts a commission and where they are stationed.
The amounts mentioned above include basic pay and a number of non‐taxable allowances, such as those for housing and subsistence. Housing allowances, however, may vary widely based on the average cost of living in the assigned area.
It’s also important to mention that an Air Force, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, or Army attorney’s salary increases with promotions and longevity. Additionally, those with prior military service receive time-in-service credit for assignments and pay grades.
Military Lawyer’s Job Outlook
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment within all US Armed Forces branches will remain steady throughout the period between 2018 and 2028.
After graduating from a law school accredited by the ABA, passing the state and/or federal bar examinations, and meeting specific physical and mental standards, individuals stand a chance of qualifying for jobs in the military that involve law.
Advancement and further education opportunities are offered to all JAG officers, and their duties are multi-faceted from the very beginning of the service.
As soon as they complete the initial four-year assignment, Judge Advocates can expect to expand their experience within Coast Guard Air Force, Navy, Marine, or Army JAG Corps, increasing both leadership and management exposure levels as they progress in rank.
Additionally, Judge Advocates can be presented with opportunities for both standard and special operational assignments.
The JAG Corps in each of the five military branches somewhat resembles a civilian law firm. The main difference is that these organizations are concerned with military justice and military law.
The chief attorney in each branch is called the Judge Advocate General, and those operating under them are referred to as Judge Advocates. As far as job prospects go, JAG Corps officers who gather several years of experience often become judges in court-martials and courts of inquiry.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a military lawyer make?
Based on the information published by the US Navy, an active duty Judge Advocate’s salary starts at between $55,000 and $75,000/year for a lieutenant junior and ranges between $65,000 and $95,000/year for a lieutenant. Note that the salary increases with the length of time in the service and promotions.
How do you become a military lawyer?
To start a career in military law, a candidate must first pursue an undergraduate degree, apply for and pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and graduate from law school with a Juris Doctor degree. After that, prospective JAGs are required to pass the bar exam. Lastly, depending on the branch, they must enroll in specific training for prospective officers.
Will the military pay for law school?
The Department of Defense does not have a law school. However, the Army Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) gives Army officers the opportunity to attend the civilian law school of their choice. Offered to those already in the uniform, the program provides three years of paid law school with the addition of continuing military pay and benefits and on-the-job training. Those who use the program must pass the state bar exam to be accepted for an Army Judge Advocate position.
Can I join the military with a law degree?
Yes, you can. Both fresh law school graduates and licensed lawyers with years of experience stand a chance of qualifying for a job in the military after law school and practicing law as a part of the Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, or Air Force JAG Corps.
Do military lawyers get deployed?
The short answer to this question is yes, they do. Regardless of their military branch of service, Judge Advocates can get deployed to areas all over the world. JAGs serve as legal advisers to military personnel and have a long list of different responsibilities. The range of duties for most military law jobs includes everything from offering legal opinions on whether military actions comply with armed conflict laws to defending or prosecuting service members in courts-martial.