The Definitive Guide to JAG Careers: Coast Guard & Marine Corps Edition

I am a big fan of JAG. The JAG attorneys I meet are consistently happy, they work on exciting issues and get courtroom experience right out of the gate, there are no billable hours, entry-level pay is over $60,000, a sizable portion of which is not taxed, they can get $65,000 in loan repayment assistance, they get the chance to travel all around the world, the military branches are always hiring, and grades are not nearly as important as they are in the firm world.

Serving as a military officer is a prestigious honor. Less than 1% of Americans serve in the military and less than 1% of those serving are officers.

I recently got some great JAG insider information when a Coast Guard JAG attorney spoke at a panel discussion I attended at the NALP conference. A Marines Corps JAG officer was unable to attend the panel but I have included information on the Marine Corps below as well. If you’re interested in knowing how the branches are different, how JAG hiring works, and what life as a military lawyer is like, read on.

The Coast Guard panelist was:

Image result for Lieutenant, Lindsay Sakal, Attorney, Coast Guard

Lieutenant, Lindsay Sakal, Attorney, Coast Guard. Lindsay is stationed in Alameda, California, close to San Francisco. She joined the Coast Guard in 2015 when she was in her mid-thirties. Prior to joining the Coast Guard, she clerked in New Jersey and worked for a mid-sized law firm. She is a prosecutor in the Coast Guard.

This blog post features the Coast Guard and the Marines. You can read about the Air Force and Army here  and the Navy here.

Coast Guard

What does the Coast Guard do?

The Coast Guard is the only military branch not under the Department of Defense. Instead, they are under the Department of Homeland Security. If there is a war, the Coast Guard is part of the Navy. The Coast Guard has 11 codified missions, some of which include search and rescue, navigation, which includes managing buoys and lighthouses, drug interdiction, and environmental. The Coast Guard focuses on protecting the homeland and is centered domestically on the U.S. They have law enforcement capacities rather than war capacities.

The Coast Guard, during an average day, will:

  • Conduct 109 search and rescue cases
  • Save 10 lives assist 192 people in distress
  • Protect $2,791,841 in property
  • Launch 396 small boat missions
  • Launch 164 aircraft missions, logging 324 hours
  • Board 144 vessels
  • Seize 169 pounds of marijuana and 306 pounds of cocaine worth $9,589,000
  • Intercept 14 illegal migrants
  • Board 100 large vessels for port safety checks
  • Respond to 20 oil or hazardous chemical spills totaling 2,800 gallons
  • Service 135 aids to navigationImage result for Coast Guard JAG pictures


What is the Coast Guard JAG?

The Coast Guard Legal Program is a “full-service” legal support organization, providing legal advice and counsel  within 10 general legal practice areas. Judge Advocates may appear both as prosecutors or defense counsel in courts-martial and before a variety of administrative hearings. Coast Guard Judge Advocates also assist the Department of Justice and U.S. attorneys in prosecuting and defending both criminal and civil cases. In some areas, Judge Advocates are designated Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute criminal cases in Federal Court.

The Coast Guard is smaller than the other branches. There are only 40,000 people in all of the Coast Guard so naturally, there are fewer JAGs. The Coast Guard only has 200 active duty attorneys. Only 150 are operating as attorneys and the rest are attorneys serving in non-attorney roles. Coast Guard attorneys are officers first. There is no JAG corps within the Coast Guard and unlike the other branches, Coast Guard lawyers do not wear anything on their uniforms that indicates the are lawyers. Instead, Coast Guard officers can be assigned to any position within the Coast Guard.

Unlike other branches, Coast Guard lawyers can ask to try something else that isn’t law. Almost all Coast Guard attorneys come in without prior service through a direct commission.

Also unlike branches, the Coast Guard has no overseas presence and a JAG’s chances of being stationed overseas are remote. Unlike the Navy, JAGs are not stationed on ships either.

As a Coast Guard JAG, your first duty station assignment will be to a legal office in one of the Coast Guard’s District Offices (Boston, Miami, New Orleans, Cleveland, Seattle, Juneau, or Honolulu); Atlantic Area (Norfolk, VA) and Pacific Area (Alameda, CA); Legal Service Command & Detachment (Norfolk, VA or Alameda, CA); the Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT); or in Coast Guard Headquarters (Washington, DC).

How do you apply to be a Coast Guard lawyer?

If you’re interested in applying, go to the Coast Guard website. Contact a general recruiter and they’ll either contact you or put you in contact with a JAG. You can contact a recruiter at anytime. The application process starts in spring of the 2L year. 3L Students apply in late August or early September.

The Coast Guard holds two hiring boards. One is in August or September and one is in February. If you want to flow directly from law school into the Coast Guard without a break after graduation, then make sure your application materials are in on time to be reviewed in the August hiring board. Applications to be a Coast Guard lawyer vary from 60-200, depending on the year. Acceptance varies based on need. They can take 5-20 attorneys in a given year.

The Coast Guard is smaller so cannot be as present on campuses. Part of their philosophy is that  everybody is a recruiter.  If the Coast Guard comes on campus, they do informational interviews. They do not take any reports of these interviews or track anything to an application. Formal interview take place on a Coast Guard base and the first step to getting an interview is contacting a recruiter.

In a formal Coast Guard interview, there are 3 panel members, one of whom is a JAG, and the interview lasts 90 minutes-2 hours depending on the interviewers.

How do you apply for a summer internship with the Coast Guard?

The process for applying for a Coast Guard internship is less formal than the other branches.  Students interested in applying for a summer internship at a particular legal office must send cover letter, writing sample and resume (and perhaps additional information) to the point of contact for that legal office. To receive contact information for particular legal offices or if you just want more information on available positions, contact the Direct Commission Lawyer Program Manager.

You can intern in a variety of locations such as Boston, DC, Norfolk, Miami, SF, New Orleans, Seattle, Juneau, Cleveland but Alameda, Norfolk, and DC are where most of the internship opportunities are. Coast Guard internships are unpaid but you can receive school credit.

You must enter the Coast Guard by your 41st birthday.


What do the Marines do?

The Marine Corps is one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. The Marines are a part of the Department of the Navy and operate in close cooperation with U.S. Naval forces at sea. The Marine Corps’ mission is unique among the services. Marines serve on U.S. Navy ships, protect naval bases, guard U.S. embassies, and provide an ever-ready quick strike force to protect U.S. interests anywhere in the world.

The Marine Corps is the nation’s 911 force. Thousands of Marines are always deployed aboard naval amphibious ships ready to respond to an international crises. This ability to mobilize quickly has allowed the Marines to become the United States’ ready-reaction force.

Image result for Marines Corps officer

Marines are exceptionally proud to be Marines and once you are a Marine, you get treated like a Marine for life.

The Marines are the hard core branch of the military. To get in the Marines, even as a lawyer, you must be in exceptional physical shape.

What is Marine Corps JAG?

The Marine Judge Advocate Division has 400 attorneys. You will mostly likely serve as a prosecutor defense counsel in courts martial during your first tour but after that, Marine lawyers have the opportunity to practice law in such diverse areas as operations law, family law, environmental law, international, and appellate law.

Marines are proud to say that “every Marine is a rifleman.” Unlike the other branches, Marine lawyers are given the proper training so that, if need be, they can perform as an infantryman if called upon. Marines get paid to be professional athletes.

I went to the Marine Corps JAG career services conference a few years ago and got the chance to see the officer training. JAG officers learn how to engage in hand to hand combat, how to use a rifle, and get the same hard core officer training that every other Marine officer receives.

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Officer candidate school is intense and you have to be tough to want to go through it.

Marines are Marines first and lawyers second. Here are the physical fitness minimum requirements for Marines:

Fitness Requirements for Each PFT Event (Males)
Age Pull-Ups Crunches 3-Mile Run
17-26 3 50 28:00
27-39 3 45 29:00
40-45 3 45 30:00
46 3 40 33:00
Fitness Requirements for Each PFT Event  (Females)
Age Flexed-Arm Hang Crunches 3-Mile Run
17-26 15 Seconds 50 31:00
27-39 15 Seconds 45 32:00
40-45 15 Seconds 45 33:00
46 15 Seconds 40 36:00

As a Marine Corps Judge Advocate, you will immediately be given the responsibilities of maintaining your own caseload and advising Marines on legal issues. Additionally, the training you receive as a Marine Corps Officer will prepare you to be a leader from day one.

While most new civilian attorneys research cases tried by others, you will be building your skills and acquiring real legal experience in the courtroom.

The major Marines Corps bases and air stations are located in DC, Quantico, VA, California, Japan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Yuma, AZ, Hawaii, San Diego, Georgia, and Missouri. Judge Advocates may also be sent to Navy bases in Italy, Spain, Pensacola, and Rhode Island.

How do you apply to be a Marine Corps Lawyers?

Contact an Officer Recruiting Officer (OSO). Notre Dame has a designated OSO, LT. Stephens. If you like to be connected with him, email me and I will put you in touch. Unlike the other branches, the application process is not done online. Your Officer Recruiting Officer really walks you through the whole process.

As a 1L or 2L, you can apply to the Platoon Leaders Class. If you get accepted during your 1L year, you can attend Officer Candidate School the summer between your 1L and 2L year, commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marines,  and go on inactive duty until you complete law school. You can also apply during your 2L year and go to OCS the summer between your 2nd and 3rd year of law school.

3Ls can apply to the Officer Candidate Class program.

You must have a minimum GPA of 2.0. Physical fitness, commitment to service, and dedication to the Marine Corps mission are substantially more important than grades when it comes to getting selected.

How do you apply for a Marine Corps summer internship?

There is no Marine Corps summer internship program, however if you go to Officer Candidate school, during the summer months, you may apply for active duty and be assigned to a Marine Corps base or unit and assume legal duties.

If you’re interested in applying to the Coast Guard or Marines (and you are a Notre Dame student or alumn), contact me and we can work together on crafting a great application. If you attend another law school, please reach out to your law school’s career services office. I do not respond to emails from students from other law schools.

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