Careers in Military LawUpdated: January 9, 2021
Are you interested in a career in military law? Many become interested in military law and the military justice system by way of popular television shows like NCIS and JAG. For two television programs that ran a combined twenty-seven seasons, it’s not surprising that some viewers would consider military jobs similar to those prominently featured on screen each week.
What follows is not meant to be a comprehensive look at all possible military law careers–there are too many jobs across six branches of military service (including Space Force) to list them all here.
Instead, this should be considered a tool to use before and during conversations with a recruiter–if you are interested in legal work, you might not know all your options, but knowing what questions to ask can help you get closer to your goals for your military career.
Career Options: New Recruit Or Cross-Trainee?
One important distinction to make when considering your options for a military law career? When you decide to pursue that career. It’s easy for a new recruit to approach a recruiter and begin the military moving toward that career–it’s another thing to enter military service in a different career field and try to train out of that field in favor of military law.
It’s not impossible to do so (we’ll discuss that later on), but it may not be as easy to do as some might believe.
Career Options In Military Law: Officer Or Enlisted
Should you join the military as an officer or an enlisted person? That is one of the first choices a new potential military recruit has to make regarding legal careers (similar to the choices required for military medicine).
Military lawyers have career field rules that require higher education, the same as a civilian lawyer; military paralegals require their own training (like their civilian counterparts), but they are enlisted members, not officers.
That’s just one of the nuances of the career field–you’ll soon come to know the others. Enlisted legal jobs don’t necessarily require college degrees (though they do not hurt), but your ASVAB scores in areas such as Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Arithmetic Reasoning will play an important role in determining your suitability for the career field in the eyes of your recruiter.
Military Lawyers And Judges Are Officers
One important issue to address early–enlisted members do not become military lawyers (unless they retrain as officers and attend the proper schooling). To work as a military lawyer, you must earn a law degree and be accepted into the branch of service of your choice as a lawyer.
The Department of Defense does not have a law school; instead, new officer candidates are offered the opportunity (similar to military doctors) to attend the participating college of their choice as part of a tuition program to cover the expense of law school in exchange for a military service commitment.
Enlisted Military Law Careers
While it’s true that officers who want to become military lawyers have to attend law school and enter military service with a bachelor’s degree or better, enlisted members are not required to have college degrees to enter military law specialties.
Enlisted troops will receive on-the-job training and military-technical school training in the areas they are required to know for the job. Just because you do not have a law degree or law training as an enlisted applicant does not mean you aren’t a good candidate for a military legal job.
Air Force JAG Program
There are a variety of programs in this area. The Air Force has an option for those who want to attend college before joining the service. The Graduate Law Program “guarantees you a position as a JAG” according to AF.mil. The requirements include successful completion of a two-year Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program, plus law school and any legal licensing requirements.
Army Funded Legal Education (FLEP)
Another good example is the United States Army–in 2018, an article published by Army.mil noted that Army officers could attend the civilian law school of their choice as part of the Funded Legal Education Program.
This provides three years of paid law school, continuing military pay and benefits (this program is for those already in uniform), plus on-the-job training. Those who use FLEP must pass a state bar exam before being accepted for an Army JAG position.
Military law, law enforcement, and related career fields have their own level of nuance, their own unique practices, procedures, training, etc. One thing to be careful of when exploring your options with a particular branch of military service is how fast and loose the descriptions of certain career fields might be treated in some portions of the recruiting materials.
For example, on the Army official site, a search for military legal and law enforcement jobs turns up the usual suspects (Judge Advocate careers, paralegals, claims, etc.), but also listed in this section? Firefighting.
While that may technically be considered part of the law enforcement/legal milieu, someone interested in doing paralegal work will not necessarily find the work they are looking for by joining the military with a Firefighter MOS, AFSC, etc.
If you have a good idea about the work you are trying to find via your military career, try not to be talked into accepting a job adjacent to, but not specifically, what you are looking for.
Some recruiters may try to “steer” their applicants toward critically staffed career fields and offer the option to come into the military with one kind of job with the idea of “cross-training” into a different career field later.
That option has been offered by many a recruiter, but keep in mind that cross-training is not as easy as it sounds, and you may or may not be prevented from doing so if your current career field is critically staffed, shorthanded, or in need of expansion.
If you are in a military occupational specialty now and want to cross-train into a military law career, you will need to talk with someone in your command support staff, unit detailer, Command Sergeant Major, Senior Chief, etc., to discuss the current requirements to cross train, how, and when you may do so.
Military Jobs In The Legal And Law Enforcement Professions
Military law jobs cut across a wide range of disciplines. Law enforcement jobs in the military are frequently listed alongside legal professions such as claims, internment, paralegals, and Base Legal Office positions.
What types of positions are possible for enlisted and officers after completing the required basic training, Officer candidate training, etc.? Here is a brief list of military law jobs–if you are talking to a recruiter (entering the military) or personnel staff member (already serving but looking to cross-train), be sure to ask what other legal positions might be available or critically staffed.
Criminal Investigations Special Agent (Army CID)
CID agents and their staff can be officers, enlisted, and even civilians. These agents investigate felony-level crimes involving Army personnel or equipment and are on the enforcement side of military law careers. In the Navy, these investigators may work for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). In the Air Force, they may fall under the Office of Special Investigations (OSI),
This military job is similar to those in civilian correctional facilities. Army.mil describes the Internment Specialist as responsible for day-to-day operations at military confinement facilities. There are versions of this job in nearly every branch of military service, and these jobs may be held by enlisted personnel.
Judge Advocate General Attorney
Lawyers in the Army, Air Force, etc., are called Judge Advocates. These are officers that have completed law school and officer training; they provide legal support, including criminal law but also intelligence law, international laws, host nation agreement issues, labor laws, and much more. Enlisted members cannot be Judge Advocates but may work on their support staff.
Paralegal Specialists/Legal Services Specialists
The civilian equivalent to the paralegal specialist is referred to as a legal assistant or just “paralegal”–these troops are enlisted, provide support in criminal, civil, and international law (among other areas) and assist both judges and Judge Advocates in a range of areas.
These military law careers also support troops with last wills and testaments, powers of attorney information, and other deployment-related issues.
Military Police/Security Forces
Enlisted and officers alike work in military police positions–these troops are basically the police force for the installation they are assigned to and respond in kind. These troops can work with military dogs, local civilian law enforcement, and host nation security forces in a wide range of support and defense activities.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News