Legal Quandary

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

So Ya Wanna Be A JAG, Part 2

Several months ago I posted something that E.Spat and I wrote about some of our thoughts on becoming a JAG. This is a continuation of those thoughts and will focus on how people who are interested can get there. It is completely Air Force centric, since its the only system I’m at all familiar with. Once again, this is just me, lil ol' LQ, passing along what I know or think I know. None of this is endorsed by the US Air Force and although I’ve tried very hard to be accurate, I sometimes do make mistakes.

For those of you interested in the sister services, I can only refer you to that service. (Army, Navy, Coast Guard.) I’ve tried and tried to find a good link to the Marine Corps JAG recruiting page, but haven’t been able…if you know of one, please send it along and I’ll update the link.

So…You Wanna Be An AF JAG?

Air Force Accessions are governed by AFI 51-101. (An AFI is an Air Force Instruction. You’ll still hear people refer to them as “regs,” though this is technically incorrect.)

There are several routes to becoming an AF JAG. Although there are ways for licensed attorneys who are already serving on active duty, either in the Air Force or in one of the other services, to become an AF JAG, you’ll have to read the AFI yourself for information on those programs. I’m going to focus on the 3 most common routes here. The initial Active Duty Service Commitment (ADSC) for both Direct Appointment and AF ROTC is four years. This means that once you go through either of these programs, you owe the Air Force four years of service.

1) Direct Appointment (DAP). This is by far the most common way of becoming an AF JAG and the route I went, so it is also the one I’m most familiar with. Most people apply at some point after their second year of law school, but lots of people also come in this way after practicing in the civilian world. You’ll fill out a lengthy application package and go through an interview with a Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) in a base legal office. The AF holds boards in August, October, December, February, April, June, and your completed package will be due to JAX (that’s the three letter office symbol for AF JAG Accessions) by the first of the month for the board you plan to meet. Be aware that interview spots with some of the SJA’s fill up very quickly, so have your application package ready to go well in advance – you’ll need to bring it with you to your interview. For the most part, the interviews are pretty low key, but I recently spoke with someone whose interviewing SJA made him stand up and give a 2 minute argument on the issue he’d submitted as a writing sample, and THEN had him go “off-brief” for 2 minutes. I would say this pretty far from the norm. Conduct yourself as you would in any other interview and use the opportunity to ask questions. Most likely you’ll also be escorted by a Captain or First Lieutenant before your interview. Use this time to ask questions about what they actually do on a day-to-day basis – plus all the “dumb” questions you don’t want to ask the Colonel! And for Pete’s sake – dress like you’re going to an interview! We had one person show up in a truly bizarre get-up. The military is pretty big on dress and appearance – knowing what to wear (a suit!!!) is part of the interview!

Two additional thoughts on the DAP route. 1) If you're unsure about whether JAG life is for you - why not try it out for a summer? There are internship programs available. You'll need to call 1-800-JAG-USAF for the details, but I know several people who have gone through the program. Not only did they get to see first-hand how the legal office works - warts and all - but it appears to have given them a leg up in the selection process. 2) DAP tends to be a program where persistance pays off. Although I was selected on my first board, I've met JAGs who applied 3 or 4 times before being selected. If you interview, don't get selected, and the SJA you interviewed with "strongly encourages you to re-apply," they're probably not just blowing smoke. If you're still really interested, thank them, ask them if they have any suggestions for strengthening your package, and then use whatever they tell you when you re-apply.

2) AF Reserve Officer Training Corp (AF ROTC). There are three routes to go within this category – the One Year Law Program (OYLP), the Graduate Law Program (GLP), and the Educational Delay Program. Selection for all these programs is on a “best qualified” basis, which means you too will have the opportunity to interview with an SJA and meet a board. The AFI says that the deadline for these programs is 1 April, but I recently heard that this was incorrect – if you’re interested in any of the ROTC programs, call either JAX (1-800-JAG-USAF) or any of the base legal offices. The deadline may actually be as early as 1 February.

- You can apply for OYLP after either 1L or 2L. You’ll need to be attending law school (and getting decent grades!) at or near a school with an AF ROTC detachment, and meet the basic physical fitness standards. You’ll attend a 5-week Field Training the summer before you start attending ROTC classes, which you do in addition to your regular law school coursework. As long as you meet all your requirements, you’re guaranteed a spot as a JAG – once you pass the bar and meet all your licensing requirements. Most people are eligible for a small monthly stipend AND you know you have a job when you graduate, which definitely helps lower the law student stress level!

- In the GLP, you do your ROTC coursework over the course of 2 years instead of one. If you’re under 30, you can receive a small monthly stipend and may be eligible for a $3000 a year incentive. In addition to interviewing with an SJA, you’ll need to interview with the local ROTC Detachment Commander (usually a Colonel) during the Spring semester/quarter of 1L. Other than that, OYLP and GLP are pretty similar. Again, if you’re picked up, you’re guaranteed a JAG slot once you pass the bar.

- Educational Delay. Let’s say you’ve gone through ROTC during undergrad and decide that you’d really like to be a JAG when you grow up. This program lets you delay the active duty commitment you incurred during undergrad until after law school. This program requires 2 interviews – one during the Spring semester/quarter of your senior year through your local ROTC Detachment, and another interview with an SJA during your final semester/quarter of law school. Your summer breaks during law school will be spent working in a base legal office as an intern. But here’s the thing…under this program, you’re NOT guaranteed a position as a JAG. I knew one person who went through this program and for some reason took an extra semester or year to graduate from law school. Although he was allowed to finish school, he went into a whole different career field after he graduated - not into JAG. This can be a great program, but be aware that if you don’t finish law school, get lousy grades, bomb your interview, or otherwise somehow disqualify yourself from being a JAG, you still retain the active duty service commitment you incurred during undergrad.

3) For officers already on active duty, you can apply for the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) or the Excess Leave Program (ELP). I won’t dwell on these much since people who are eligible are pretty darned likely to already be aware of them. Both are very competitive. Although the AF says no more than 25 students can start this training in any fiscal year, the numbers are actually MUCH lower. I think there were 6 ELP students picked up this year and 1 FLEP - my understanding is that they’ve done 6 and 6 in previous years. The big difference between the two programs is that FLEP pays for all of law school PLUS pays you as a Captain while you’re in law school. You earn leave while you’re in school and your summer breaks are spent interning at a base legal office. Most likely, but not always, that legal office will be close to where you go to school. Under ELP, you are essentially on an extended leave of absence where you pay for school and don’t get a paycheck. You also will spend breaks interning at a base legal office, but you earn pay and leave during these times. If you’re selected for ELP, you can continue to apply for FLEP while you’re in school to try to get your second and third years paid for. The ADSC will vary according to which program you are selected for, and how many years you spend in that program.


I was curious as to what insight you have as to JAG Reserve programs. I would very much like to serve my country, but from what I understand there is very little distinction these days between active and reserve in terms of frequency of deployment. Also, how long is the term of enlistment for active and reserve JAGs? Thanks.
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Thanks for your info. I stumbled on your blog while looking for some answers to my questions regarding potential JAG service. I have been in private practice now for 5+ years, but I am seriously considering applying for a JAG position. My only hold up is that I have a wife and 2 little girls...ages 5 and 19 months. Are there many "family" JAGs? If I decide to go this route, I am doing so with the intention of putting in my 20 years. My fear is dragging my children all over the country from one assignment to the next during that time. What is your experience with the relocation aspect of JAG service? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
For the GLP, what $3,000 incentive were you talking about?? I have never heard or read anywhere that allows you to get a 3k incentive. If you point me to the direction of where you found this information, I would greatly appreciate it. I am currently considering applying for the GLP. Thanks

I just went through the exact process described above for Direct Appointment. I applied for the October board. How soon do you think will they contact me? They said before Christmas...but I am hoping that is their latest date...just wondering if you remember how soon after your board they contacted you?

Any other tips will be helpful.

Hi KC -

I also met an October board. A lot depends on what day of the month the board meets, but they usually try to meet around the first of the month.

I think my board met on the 8th and I knew by the 23rd. It's really a pretty fast turnaround!

We've had a ton of applicants lately, so it could be that the board process is taking a bit longer these days, but I would expect you'll hear something back very soon.

Best of luck to you!
I'm kind of a unique case- I did a 3/3 program at my undergrad university, and am currently in my 1st year of law school (the start of the second "3" in "3/3"), and applied for the Ed Delay this January. The only selection board to meet for Ed. Delay is in February each year, and their website says that they send out notifications of acceptance/ rejection by mail. I Commission in May and would be devastated if I was prohibited from finishing law school. I'm currently in limbo- waiting to hear back from the selection boards (that were delayed because of the D.C. blizzards), but am worried of the worst-case scenario. I'm wondering what other avenues I can pursue that would allow me to finish law school?
Samantha -

With the caveat that I am COMPLETELY out of my area of expertise, let me start by saying that I've never heard of anyone being denied at an Ed Delay "in" selection. Maybe it's happened a time or two, but I've never heard of it. I have heard of several people being denied entry into the JAG Corps at the Ed Delay "out" board - but you won't have to worry about that for awhile, and by then you'll have your law degree. So, first of all...relax, and breathe! The fact that you have been accepted to law school and presumably have received your first set of grades should help - especially if the grades are good. 3/3 programs are known to be challenging, so that's probably another thing in your favor.

But, the question you asked was more along the lines of "what if?" If you are denied Ed Delay, get your commission in May and go on active duty, you'll need to spend a couple of years in your assigned career field. You become eligible to apply for the Excess Leave Program (ELP) and the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) at (I believe, but AFI 51-101 will tell you for sure) the 2 year mark. It's another application and interview process, but these are both ways for active duty officers to get their law degrees and become JAGs.

Both programs are highly competitive though, so the only other option I can think of is to separate at the earliest opportunity, finish law school, and if you're still interested in becoming a JAG, apply through the Direct Appointment Program (DAP). Again, an application and interview process. If you elect this route, be careful about joining the Reserve or Guard - you can make yourself ineligible for active duty if you get promoted to Major.

Hope this helps - good luck to you!

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