The Definitive Guide to JAG Careers: Navy Edition 2020

These Definitive Guide JAG posts are consistently the most popular content on this site. My former colleague, Katelynn McBride Barbosa who created this blog, did an amazing job summarizing the key information for each branch. It’s been a few years, though, and some things have definitely changed, so I am going to update and expand the information provided.

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 this series of posts (which are all updated for 2020). Also, check out our JAG Info Sheet which provides key basics for each branch plus current recruiting contacts (in the Job Search Toolkit). And talk with members of the NDLS Military & Veterans Law Society to hear more about their experiences. Want to talk with recent alumni who are current JAGs? Let me know, and I will connect you.

It’s not a secret to any NDLS student that I am a huge fan of JAG. I think it is an amazing career path with so many advantages. JAG attorneys get terrific hand-on substantive experience, including courtroom experience, right away. Entry-level pay is over $60,000, a sizable portion of which is not taxed, and there are lots of other wonderful benefits as well. The military emphasizes the whole person, not just grades. As a JAG, you will be part of your military family which is an amazing community and support network.


What does the Navy do?

People in the Navy are called sailors and the Navy focuses on protecting the sea. As a result, Navy JAGs will almost certainly find themselves on a boat at some point.

Navy missions include:

  • Training missions at sea with foreign navies
  • Regional security
  • Reconnaissance/intelligence missions to gather enemy data
  • At-sea rescues
  • Medical care programs for Navy, Marines, or perhaps people in or near a war theater
  • Oil spill or other marine cleanups

What is Navy JAG?

There are over 900 active duty Navy attorneys.

The Navy JAG Corps provides solutions to legal issues with a focus on three essential capabilities:

Operational Law/Command Advice
The Navy operates in an increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment. They provide the legal expertise necessary to conduct military operations worldwide. They also support the Navy as a whole by providing legal advice for programs such as recruiting, training, and organization.

Military Justice
The American people expect the highest standards of personal and professional conduct from their armed forces. Navy JAGs maintain a fair and just system by enforcing the conduct and accountability of military personnel.

Support to Sailors and their Families
The men and women of the U.S. Navy are its most important asset. The Navy JAG Corps supports military personnel and their families by providing legal assistance services. Additionally, they provide legal assistance for Wounded Warriors and assist active duty personnel through all stages of the disability evaluation system.

The U.S. Navy is unique among the services in its ability to project power in all domains: on land, at sea, and in the air. As a Navy judge advocate, you will experience the most diverse legal practice available to an attorney. Some of the specific areas of our practice include:

  • Military Justice (prosecution, defense, judiciary, and appellate)
  • Legal Assistance (personal legal services and advice to military members and their families)
  • National Security Law (law of the sea and armed conflict, international agreements, and foreign criminal jurisdiction)
  • Administrative Law (government ethics, regulations, and legislation)
  • Environmental Law (laws protecting human health, the environment, and historic and cultural resources)
  • Civil Litigation (cases incident to the operation of the Navy in conjunction with the Department of Justice)
  • Admiralty and Maritime Law (admiralty tort and salvage claims, and international and domestic maritime issues)
  • Information Operations and Intelligence Law (national security and cyberspace matters)

Because the Navy’s mission centers around ships, most Navy bases are located on the coasts so the Navy is known for its excellent base locations including Hawaii, California, Virginia, Washington, Florida, DC, Cuba, Spain, Italy, Greece, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.

The initial service commitment is four years.

Learn more about the Navy JAG Corps through their blog. And check out the Guide to the Navy JAG.

What are the eligibility requirements for Navy JAG?

To be eligible for the Student Program (SP) with the Navy JAG Corps, you must:

  • be a United States citizen of good moral character;
  • be younger than 42 years of age at the time you begin active duty;
  • have taken the Law School Admission Test (LSAT);
  • be a law student with at least one year of school completed, attending an American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited school, or a graduate of an ABA-accredited law school who has not yet had the opportunity to take the first available bar exam following graduation; and
  • meet the physical and medical requirements for commission in the Navy.
    • The physical requirements include meeting Navy and DoD fitness standards which are explained here.

How do you apply to be a Navy lawyer?

The main way people get into Navy JAG is through the Student Program. You can apply for this online during either your 2L or your 3L year. They also accept attorneys through their direct appointment program, which considers applicants who are already attorneys. The Navy holds two selection boards each year. The spring selection board evaluates all of the applications, and the fall selection board looks exclusively at students. Fall and spring application deadlines are posted here. Tips for a successful application can be found here.

Like the Army, the Navy conducts evaluative interviews on-campus that are treated as formal structured interviews. The Navy tries to visit every law school at least once (if not twice) a year specifically to conduct formal structured interviews. If the student is unable to make the time/date that the Navy has someone visiting, then the student is responsible for traveling to the nearest base with a Navy JAG to conduct the structured interview. The closest Navy base to Notre Dame is Great Lakes Naval base, just north of Chicago.

The Navy has a 10-15% acceptance rate.

Upon selection, students are commissioned in the inactive Navy Reserve while they finish law school. After completing law school, gaining bar admission, and successful completion of the Navy Officer Development School, participants are appointed as active-duty Navy judge advocates. This is the most common way to become a Navy JAG Corps officer.

How do you apply for a summer internship or school-year externship with the Navy?

To apply for an internship, you must go on the website. The Navy offers both unpaid summer internships and school-year externships. You can intern at a Navy base overseas. The more open you are to interning in a wide variety of locations, the more likely your internship application is to be successful.

Great Lakes Naval Station is located just north of Chicago, which means that Notre Dame students can extern with the Navy during the semester through Notre Dame’s Law in Chicago program. Because of the Navy base’s unique proximity to Chicago, the Navy is the only military branch for which Notre Dame students can extern during the school year. If you want to apply for a Chicago program externship with the Navy, look for the emails about spring externship registration.

If you extern with the Navy during the school year or intern with them over the summer, you have a good chance of getting chosen when applying for the JAG Corps. At the end of your summer internship or school-year externship, you will receive a letter of evaluation that you can then use to apply to the JAG corps.

What is the Navy looking for in candidates?

The ideal candidates for a commission in the Navy JAG Corps are those who have demonstrated academic excellence, deep commitment to public service, strong leadership traits, diverse life experiences, positive attitudes, a sense of adventure, and engaging personalities. They look for leaders who are capable of being both strategic thinkers and tactical operators. They apply the “whole person” concept in evaluating applicants.

If you’re turned down the first time that you apply, you should keep applying if you remain interested. Demonstrating ongoing interest can only help.


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