Legal Quandary

Monday, February 25, 2008

More Answers

To more of your questions. (Keep them coming! The more YOU write, the more I write...) As always, I need to remind you that these are just LQ's impressions and are NOT the official position of the Air Force or the JAG corps. Even so, I hope you find the answers helpful.

At the poster's request, I've redacted his name and personal information.

How competitive is AF Jag admission? I'm 1st in the 2L class at a school somewhere on the West Coast....but it's no Yale :).

Is AF JAG less time-intensive than private practice? That's a selling point that all the JAG programs seem to advertise, but is it really true?

Are AF JAGs given more responsibility immediately as first-year lawyers than in private practice?

Does a 4-8 year JAG career lend well to moving into private practice later? In other words, if I don't go career, will I be at a disadvantage?

How competitive is AF JAG Admission? Although I can't give you hard numbers, selection is actually fairly competitive. I would estimate that my SJA interviews about a dozen people for every Direct Appointment board. Of that dozen, one to two might get selected for the first board they meet. Some offices interview more applicants, some substantially fewer. The DAP boards meet every other month and if you are not selected the first time, your package will automatically go forward to the next board. If you're not selected the second time around, you'll have to re-apply.

What can you do to help your chances of selection? Well, good grades obviously help, as do Law Review and Moot Court. Prior successful military service is also a huge bonus, but if you have other interesting work, academic, or volunteer experience, be sure to talk about that at your interview! Since you'll also be submitting a photo to the board as well as meeting with an SJA, try to be within the AF weight standards before your interview.

A few interview tips. Although it should go without saying for aspiring attorneys - wear a suit to your interview! Gentlemen should get their hair cut, and ladies should make sure their hair looks professional. You'll probably meet with one of the Captains in the office either before or after meeting with the SJA who will conduct your interview and review your paperwork with you. Listen to what they have to say and ask questions. For example. How long have they been in? What's been their best experience? Have they deployed and what was it like? It also never hurts to ask for their phone number or email address so you can ask follow up questions (or send them an email thanking them for their time!) When you meet with the SJA, be prepared to talk about why you want to be an attorney/what drew you to the law and why you think you'd like to be a JAG. What do you think it means to serve? Also know that you'll likely be asked about your willingness to deploy - and if your answer is that you'd rather not, perhaps the JAG corps is not for you. Use the interview as an opportunity to gather information as well - DON'T assume you know everything and for the love of Pete DON'T interrupt the SJA when they're talking to you.

Oh...and be nice to the staff. You'd be amazed at the number of people who are rude to the folks at the front desk when calling or coming in for interviews. Remember that the person interviewing you probably talks to the other people in his or her office.

Is AF JAG less time-intensive than private practice
I've never been in private practice, so I can't truly compare the two, but I'll give you my impressions. I think the JAG corps has less of an expectation that you work 60 or 80 hours a week, and more of an expectation that you complete the mission. If it only takes you 40 hours a week to do that, good for you! Obviously there will be times when you're prepping for trial or working an exercise where you will put in crazy hours, but for the most part, we tend to work fairly normal hours, even if it ends up being a bit more than the "typical" 40 hour workweek. Unless I have a trial or other large project, I generally work from 730 AM until 5 or 6 PM, though I'll sometimes bring work home with me to be able to leave at a decent hour. Other offices might be very different.

I find that I have a lot of flexibility in scheduling my work, which is important to me. One of the other huge benefits of the JAG corps is that I also get time for Physical Training every week. Since we're required to pass a PT test every year, most offices are pretty good about giving time for exercise, and many offices get together for fun group PT activities like ultimate frisbee or basketball. One of the other very substantial benefits is that you'll probably never have to worry about getting enough CLE credits. Between JASOC and other training courses, I practically quadrupled my CLE requirements the first year I was in.

Are AF JAGs given more responsibility immediately as first-year lawyers than in private practice? Again, I've never been in private practice, so I can't say whether the level of responsibility I have is more or less than it would be in private practice, but I can tell you about some of the experiences I've had so far. My initial inclination would be to say that JAGs ARE given a great deal more responsibility off the bat - and that's a sword which can cut both ways.

A large part of my first year was spent in training. 3 months at JASOC and approximately 5 weeks at various other training courses. Other than that in my first year, I:
- Acted as Government Trial Counsel for courts-martial
- Taught classes on the Military Justice process and basic officership.
- Reviewed hundreds of documents for legal sufficiency.
- Saw hundreds of Legal Assistance clients and drafted at least a hundred wills - many on short notice.
- Personally advised the Base Commander (typically a Colonel or 1 Star) on various issues.
- Prosecuted a number of civilians in Federal Magistrate Court.

Does a 4-8 year JAG career lend well to moving into private practice later? In other words, if I don't go career, will I be at a disadvantage? I have to admit I don't really know the answer to this question. I would say a lot probably depends on what you want to do in private practice. I've heard that people who want to do trial work sometimes have a harder time transitioning to the outside because the military justice system is just so different. On the other hand, I know several people who have landed amazing jobs with private law firms BECAUSE of their extensive trial experience. I get the impression that people with Government Contracts experience will never go hungry. I also know plenty of people who have transitioned from Active Duty to Reserves, and who have good jobs with various courts and federal agencies. I think many JAGs tend to go into other federal service just because that's what the JAG corps prepares you for, but that isn't to say that private firms wouldn't be interested as well.

Feel free to post follow-up questions!

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