Using Your Law Degree at Home and Abroad with the JAG Corps

By: Andrew Burnett

This past summer I got paid, traveled Europe, and had the most rewarding work experience of my life.  How did I do it?  The Army JAG Corps 2L Summer Intern Program.

For those who haven’t seen the popular 1990s era TV show “JAG” or the 1992 film “A Few Good Men” starring Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, “JAG” stands for “Judge Advocate General,” and refers to the thousands of lawyers serving in all branches of our nation’s military.  The Army JAG Corps has more than 1,500 active duty attorneys stationed all over the world, practicing in nearly every field of the law.  Each summer, the army hires law students for paid legal internships at home and abroad.  In January 2011, I was fortunate to be selected as a summer intern with the Army JAG Corps and in April, learned that I’d been assigned to a post in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Being an intern with the JAG Corps is much like working as a summer associate at a large law firm.  My office had four main departments, though legal centers at larger army bases have attorneys who practice in nearly every area of the law.  My internship lasted nine weeks, and I spent three weeks in Military Justice (criminal prosecution), Administrative Law (any legal issues implicating army regulations), and Legal Assistance (counseling soldiers regarding personal legal issues, though mostly family law and wills). 

Having spent the previous semester working at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, I felt the most useful during my Military Justice rotation.  However, my favorite rotation was Legal Assistance.  Though many new judge advocates tire of hearing one heartbreaking story after another, I found it fascinating to listen to the clients’ stories and challenging to try and find ways to help them.

I was a little apprehensive as I made travel arrangements—I realized I would be spending the summer in a foreign country, living and working with people I’d never met.  Furthermore, the army wasn’t able to offer any assurance of my being able to find housing.  However, I put all fears aside, and three flights and four train rides later, my army sponsor picked me up at the train station in Kaiserslautern and showed me to my spartan barracks room near the law center on Kleber Kaserne.

While much of the legal work I did with the army was similar to work I’d done in previous internships, the people were what made the internship a truly great experience.  Far from being treated as an underling or “gopher,” the army attorneys welcomed me with open arms and treated me as one of their own.  I was often included in their evening and weekend plans, including dinners, trivia nights, and weekend trips to Spain, Italy, and Switzerland.

I realize that the Army JAG Corps might not be the right career path for some law students.  The JAG Corps practice touches on nearly every field of law and Army Judge Advocates can expect to change jobs and locations every two years, making specialization and “settling down” nearly impossible.  While the army makes its best effort to consider each officer’s choices for assignments, it will ultimately send personnel where they are needed.  However, for law students who want to gain broad experience in several fields of the law, who have a sense of adventure, and are passionate about service to their country, the army may provide the perfect legal career.

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