The Definitive Guide to JAG Careers: Air Force & Army 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. I just attended the Air Force Career Services Officer Course and had an immersive experience in all things Air Force JAG. 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 JAGs are eligible for $65,000 in loan repayment assistance. 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.

Air Force

What does the Air Force do?

The Air Force provides air support for surface forces and those in the Air Force are called airmen. They are the most technologically advanced of all of the branches. They are responsible for U.S. satellites, and they maintain U.S. nuclear systems.

Here is a list of some of the missions handled by the Air Force:

  • Transporting cargo from base to base for any of the branches
  • Jet fighter patrols to protect airports, strategic locations, etc.
  • Maintenance of aerospace systems and planes
  • Base/embassy/airport/other security
  • Constructing a new base
  • In-flight refueling
  • Special rescue missions behind enemy lines
  • Medical service in impoverished areas
  • Food & supplies distribution around the world

What is Air Force JAG?

The Air Force JAG is one of the largest law firms in the world. As a member of this elite group of legal professionals, you’ll provide a full range of legal services to the U.S. Air Force and its Airmen. The Air Force has the second largest JAG Corps behind the Army. There are 1300 active duty JAGs, and there is a reserve (part-time) component as well. The initial service commitment is four years.

The Air Force has one of the most varied legal practices of all of the branches. Air Force JAGs practice military justice, environmental law, labor law, international law, utility litigation, claims/torts, operations law, medical law, special victims (sexual assault), government procurement, administrative/ethics law, aviation/space/admiralty, and cyber law.

One of the most common first assignments for an Air Force JAG is legal assistance. Legal assistance means providing legal advice and counsel to Airmen when necessary for issues affecting them. Common areas are consumer affairs, family law, wills, landlord/tenant matters, and small claims issues.

All JAGs will get trial and litigation experience right away, get the chance to practice different areas of law, and will live around the country and potentially around the world.

The Air Force is a worldwide practice and JAGs can get stationed at one of 70 bases around the world. The Air Force has bases in DC, Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Germany, England, Italy, Japan, Korea and Turkey. You can see a complete list of bases here.

These days, about 37% of JAGs are female, and about 21% are diverse. The average age of the officer force is 35.

What are the eligibility requirements for Air Force JAG Corps?

All applicants must be citizens of the United States. Applicants must graduate from an ABA-accredited law school and be admitted to the highest court of any state. They must be in good standing before commissioning. Candidates must be able to commission before the age of 40 and pass a medical evaluation (after selection).

Although there is no definitive list of things that will exclude someone from Air Force service, there are fitness assessment charts & test requirements plus height/weight requirements available online to help give an idea of what is sought.

How do you apply to be an Air Force lawyer?

There are three ways to become an Air Force JAG and you apply to them all online here.

For all of the entry methods described below, a key term to understand is the selection board. The selection board comprises a group of officers who review and evaluate all JAG applications a few times each year. They discuss each individual applicant and decide which candidates will receive JAG offers.

(1) The Graduate Law Program for 1Ls lets students be ROTC cadets as they go through law school. To participate, you need to be attached to a university that has an Air Force ROTC command. (Notre Dame does.) This program enables students to understand what military life is like while in law school. If you are in this program, you can rest assured that you have a job in the JAG Corps as long as you pass the bar and the medical/security clearances. You will work with undergraduates who will be becoming officers and get embedded in the military culture earlier. You need to interview with the Detachment Commander in the fall semester to ensure they are willing to accept you as a cadet before you apply for JAG. You need to apply by January 10 of your 1L year (February selection board). Results are typically issued 30-60 days after the selection board meets. You will commission as a second lieutenant.

The Graduate Law Program is the biggest commitment of the in-school entry options because you must attend ROTC classes and trainings throughout 2L and 3L year.

(2) The One-Year College Program for 2Ls also lets students join ROTC. The information above applies to the OYCP as well. Like the Graduate Law Program, you have guaranteed acceptance into the JAG Corps upon passing a state bar, completing the ROTC requirements and passing the medical/security clearance. You need to apply by January 10 of your 1L year (February selection board). You will commission as a second lieutenant.

(3) The last way to enter is through the direct appointment program which you can apply for as a 3L. Selection boards are held in April, September and November. Applications are accepted through the online application processing system and are due on the 10th of the month before the selection board (i.e., March 10, August 10 and October 10). In addition to your online application, you must also schedule a hiring interview through the online application processing system. You will be contacted about an interview AFTER you submit your application materials online. The interview must be completed on or before the first of the month of the board (i.e., April 1, September 1, November 1). The Air Force gets 800-1000 applications each year and the selection rate is 13-17% (2018-2020).

All three entry programs qualify for up to $65,000 in total loan repayment for eligible educational loans, without additional service commitment required (just the basic initial four-year requirement).

The closest Air Force base to Notre Dame is Grissom Air Force base about 90 minutes straight south of ND.

The way that individual Air Force interviews are structured is up to the interviewer. Some common question areas relate to fitness, oral advocacy, service, leadership, medical history, drug use. You want to provide examples to illustrate your answers. It’s a professional legal interview. You want to be honest, be authentic and be yourself. If you are not selected, you can get feedback and tips for improvement directly from the Air Force before applying again. 

To learn more and get started applying through any route, visit the Air Force website.

How do you apply for an Air Force summer internship?

The Air Force has both paid and unpaid internships. They offer 25-30 paid internships to 1Ls and 2Ls. Internships are 8-10 weeks.

These internships are a terrific opportunity to gain real world legal experience and see what it is like to be an active duty JAG.

The Air Force announces its internship application due dates on Facebook and the CDO receives the dates as well. The Air Force does not interview for its summer positions. They only accept complete applications submitted during the appropriate application window via www.USAJobs.gov. The position will be titled “Air Force Law Clerk.” You can read more on the Air Force website.

If you complete a summer internship, you have a much better chance of getting selected for an Air Force JAG position. 

What is the Air Force looking for in candidates?

More than other legal employers, the military is guided by the whole person concept. They will review you as a candidate in your entirety, not just your numbers. Factors include demonstrated leadership and management skills, commitment to community and public service, extracurricular activities, academic performance, and leadership potential, personal integrity, adaptability and flexibility. Prior military experience is not a requirement. Nearly 85% of current JAGs have no prior military experience.

You’ll want to show that you can follow the simple directions in the application. Your motivational statement is very important. Show why you want to join the Air Force, highlight your commitment to service, leadership skills, and adaptability. Leadership skills are very important to the Air Force and they want to see a pattern of leadership throughout your life. It is strongly recommended, although not required, that you submit a writing sample (work product is best) and letters of recommendation.

If you are an NDLS student, feel free to contact Ali Wruble to discuss your motivational statement and overall application. If you attend another law school, please reach out to your law school’s career services office. I have checklists and timelines for both the Graduate Law Program and the One-Year College Program.

To talk with the Notre Dame Air Force JAG recruiting contact, check out the JAG Info Sheet in the Job Search Toolkit. It contains key points for each branch and current recruiting contact information. Or contact me for help.

Army

What does the Army do?

Those in the Army are called soldiers. Where the Air Force provides air support and the Navy protects the sea, the Army is the part of the military that fights on the ground.

Examples of Army missions include:

  • Base security
  • Engaging enemy targets on the ground
  • Helicopter missions to drop troops in hard-to-reach areas
  • Counter drug operations
  • Law enforcement in volatile areas
  • Large-scale transportation of supplies and troops via ground vehicles
  • Humanitarian missions delivering food supplies, building schools, etc.

What is Army JAG?

Founded by George Washington, the Army JAG Corps is the oldest law firm in the country. Army Judge Advocates are responsible for offering legal support that involves military operations. They primarily focus on the areas of criminal law, legal assistance, civil/administrative law, labor/employment law, international/operational law, torts, environmental law, national security law, intelligence law, and contract/fiscal law. Army lawyers wear uniforms every day, deploy, serve with commanders, and provide counsel in all areas of law.

JAG attorneys get substantive experience right away and typically rotate legal disciplines every 1-2 years. Most Army JAGs will see the inside of a courtroom within their first three years. All JAGs will get trial and litigation experience right away, get the chance to practice different areas of law, and will live around the country and potentially around the world. The initial service commitment is four years.

The Army JAG Corps is composed of 10,000 soldiers, including paralegals, and is the largest JAG Corps of all of the branches. There are 1800 active-duty Army JAGs. There is also a large army civilian force.

There are Army bases all over the United States and in Germany, Italy, South Korea, Japan. You can see a complete list of Army bases here.

New judge advocates begin their training (Direct Commissioned Course) at Fort Benning, GA (six weeks), followed by The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville (ten-and-a-half weeks). After the completion of their training, they are assigned based on the needs of the Army, the needs of the JAG Corps, and the preferences of the judge advocate. They are typically not assigned to their state(s) of licensure. Depending on the needs of the Army, the judge advocate may be assigned to additional locations during their first four-year tour, which can include combat zones.

How do you apply to be an Army lawyer?

The Army interviews 3Ls during OCI for active-duty positions after law school. The application period is open from August 1-October 1. You can read more about application materials and the hiring process on the Army JAG website. Army on-campus interviews are true evaluative interviews that can result in your getting selected to join the Army. The Army recruits on-campus at Notre Dame every fall.

There are over 100 field screening officers and they visit all ABA-accredited law schools in the fall. Interviews are one-on-one, notes are taken, and reports are written on each person interviewed. After interviews, the field screening officers generate reports on their interviews, which are sent to the selection board.

The interview is a very telling piece of the application. The Army wants applicants to meet with a practicing judge advocate so they can assess if they fit with what a judge advocate should be. The Army is looking for people committed to service that understand sacrifice. The interview must be conducted by October 1.

The Army conducts one board each year for selection for active duty. They get about 600 applications and take 25-30%. 

How do you apply for a summer internship with the Army?

The Army conducts 30 minute on-campus interviews at Notre Dame every fall for paid 2L summer positions. 

Each summer, the Army JAG Corps hires 2L law students to work as legal interns in hundreds of offices across the United States. Interns also have the opportunity to work in Germany, South Korea, and Japan, among several other countries. For 60 calendar days, these summer interns work as temporary civil service employees performing a variety of legal tasks. Interns do not incur any military service obligation by participating in the JAG Corps Summer Intern Program. There are 70-75 slots available and the Army gets about 300-400 applications each year. Interns are paid for their work and can work all over the world, such as in Italy or Germany where there are Army bases. Applicants provide a wish list based on what locations are available. An Army internship is a great chance to see what it’s like to be judge advocate without any service obligation.

If you intern over the summer, your odds of getting selected to join the JAG Corps are much greater. 90% of those who intern end up getting selected when applying to the JAG Corps.

What are the eligibility requirements for Army JAG?

Applicants must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Be physically and mentally fit (see more here)
  • Be of good moral standing and character
  • Demonstrate leadership potential and a record of proven scholastic ability
  • Meet security clearance requirements
  • Be a citizen of the United States
  • Have earned a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school
  • Admitted to the bar for the federal/highest court of any state in the United States or the District of Columbia (note: 3L students may also apply)
  • Be able to serve 20 years of active commissioned service before reaching the age of 62 (under the age of 42 at the time of entry onto active duty)

What is the Army looking for in candidates?

The Army wants to see a commitment to service, and they take a whole-person view. There is no set minimum for GPA or LSAT score. They look at your personal statement, how your interview went, and how you value teamwork, which is very important. The board is composed of five people and the personal statement means the world to them. They want to know why you chose to serve and that you know what it means to be put on a uniform. The Army really wants to get the right fit.

Little things in your application, like the photograph that you submit, make a difference. Be sure to follow all instructions provided.

Field officers are given a week-long training to prepare them to interview candidates. Field officers ask themselves when interviewing candidates: is this someone you want to work with every day? Can they handle being in a leadership position immediately?

At the end of the day, they want to know who you are and why you are asking for the opportunity and privilege to serve.

If you are an NDLS student, feel free to contact Ali Wruble to discuss your application. If you attend another law school, please reach out to your law school’s career services office.

2 Comments

  1. I intuit that you’re trying to be PC with this post, but please remind yourself that the polarized lines of thinking sometimes promote good dialogue when approached with respect..and it is your page not a democracy- let your voice set the tone here!

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