(Updated Jan. 20, 2021)
The following information has been gathered for UVA Law students information for students interested in entering the U.S. military JAG Corps. In addition to publishing this resource, the Public Service Center hosts an annual JAG Corps career panel each fall, organizes on-grounds interviews conducted by JAG employers, and counsels students on JAG careers. UVA Law students considering JAG careers are encouraged to contact a PSC counselor to discuss their interests and applications.
- Where can I find out more information about each armed service branch JAG program?
- What is a judge advocate?
- What type of law does a judge advocate practice?
- How long is the initial service commitment?
- What is the application deadline for applying to become a judge advocate?
- Does each service branch offer a summer internship program affiliated with their JAG corps/judge advocates?
- What is the starting salary?
- What rank will I begin at?
- If I join one of the service branches, am I guaranteed a position as a judge advocate?
- Do I need to be a U.S. Citizen to apply for a position as a judge advocate?
- When can I apply for consideration?
- If I become a judge advocate, will I have opportunities to live abroad?
- Do any of the service branches offer loan forgiveness incentives?
- Which medical conditions will disqualify me from service?
- What are the height and weight requirements?
- What are the physical fitness requirements?
- Will my sexual orientation and/or gender identification prevent me from serving?
Are there age restrictions on when I can join?
Judge advocates are commissioned officers in one of the U.S. Armed Forces that serve as legal advisors to the command in which they are assigned. Their functions include providing legal advice and assistance in a wide variety of practice areas, as well as serving as prosecutors and defense counsel in courts-martial.
Judge advocates typically function in a wide variety of practice areas, often rotating through several areas during their service commitments. The type of law you practice may vary based on service branch, assignment, and geographic location.
- Air Force: “[Judge Advocates] have immediate opportunities to practice law in a variety of fields” including: Air & Space Law, Civil Administration Law, Claims & Tort Litigation, Criminal Law, Cyber Law, Environmental & Real Property Law, Government Contract & Commercial Law, International Law, Labor Law, Legal Assistance, Medical Law, Operations Law.
- Army: “[Judge advocates] are involved in a broad range of cases in military justice, civil and administrative law, contract and fiscal law, and international and operational law.”
- Coast Guard: “The Coast Guard Legal Program is a “full-service” legal support organization, providing legal advice and counsel for any and all requirements the service’s decision makers place on us. This is done within 10 general legal practice areas: Criminal Law/Military Justice, Operations, International Activities, Civil Advocacy, Environmental Law, Procurement Law, Internal Organizational Law, Regulations & Administrative Law, Legislative Support and Legal Assistance.”
- Marine Corps: “You will likely serve as a prosecutor or defense counsel in military courts-martial during your first tour and have the opportunity during your USMC career to practice law in areas as diverse as operational law, family law, environmental law, labor law and international law.”
- Navy: “As a Navy judge advocate, you will experience the most diverse legal practice available to an attorney. Some of the specific areas of our practice include: Military Justice, Legal Assistance, International and Operational Law, Administrative Law, Environmental Law, Civil Litigation, Admiralty and Maritime Law, Information Operations and Intelligence Law.”
Each branch of the military, with the exception of the Marine Corps, requires that commissioned officers serve four years on active-duty. After leaving the branch following this commitment, you must remain for four additional years in inactive status. This means that you no longer serve in the military but can be recalled should need arise due to a conflict/war. Commissioned officers of the Marine Corps must serve three years on active-duty and five years on inactive status.
Air Force: The Air Force provides three different programs through which law students may apply to become judge advocates:
- Graduate Law Program (1Ls) – Jan. 10
- One Year College Program (2Ls) – Jan. 10
- Direct Appointment Program (3Ls) – March 10, Aug. 10, Oct. 10 (depending on which board you would like to meet)
- Army: Oct. 1
- Coast Guard: Mar. 8
- Marine Corps: The Marine Corps holds three boards per year. Interested students should contact a recruiter to determine next application deadline and whether or not spaces will be available.
- Navy: Fall Deadline – Oct. 7; Spring Deadline - Feb. 19
6. Does each service branch offer a summer internship program affiliated with their JAG corps/judge advocates?
Air Force: Yes
Each year, the Air Force selects 25 first- and second-year law students to work at Air Force base legal offices throughout the United States and at their headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Each summer, the Army JAG Corps hires 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. ...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.”
Coast Guard: Yes
Interns will work alongside active duty Judge Advocates and civilian attorneys within the Coast Guard legal community. The program provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the U.S. Coast Guard and its legal community, while gaining insight on its Direct Commission Lawyer process. Interns must complete a security background check and are required to spend a minimum of 10 weeks interning at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington D.C. or U.S. Coast Guard legal field offices throughout the country, including: Boston, MA; Portsmouth, VA; Norfolk, VA; Miami, FL; New Orleans, LA; Cleveland, OH; Alameda, CA; New London, CT; Seattle, WA; Honolulu, HI; Cape May, NJ; or Juneau, AK.
Marine Corps: Yes (for commissioned officers in the Marine Corps)
“During the summer months, [commissioned officers] may apply for active duty and be assigned to a Marine Corps base or unit and assume legal duties. Those selected for duty receive the pay and allowances of their rank, travel allowances, and per diem based on the geographic area to which they are assigned.” (page 3)
Navy: Yes (1Ls and 2Ls)
“The Navy JAG Corps offers summer internships and school year externships to law school students wishing to gain experience for credit. Due to funding constraints, only unpaid opportunities are currently available. As a Navy JAG Corps volunteer, you'll be assigned to a legal command/staff and gain experience in traditional Navy JAG Corps practice areas such as military justice (criminal prosecution and defense), legal assistance (providing general legal advice to Sailors and their families), and command services (advising military commanders and their staffs).”
The starting salaries for newly commissioned judge advocates in each branch are as follows. Please note that judge advocates are typically promoted within six to 12 months of their commissioning. Also, the following figures do not take into consideration allowances or time served.
- Air Force: $3,787.50 Base Pay Monthly
- Army: $3,787.50 Base Pay Monthly
- Coast Guard: $4,383.30 Base Pay Monthly
- Marine Corps: $3,287.10 Base Pay Monthly
- Navy: $3,787.50 Base Pay Monthly
- Air Force: First Lieutenant (O-2) (typically promoted to Captain (O-3) after six months).
- Army: First Lieutenant (O-2) (typically promoted to Captain (O-3) after six to nine months). (page 1)
- Coast Guard: Lieutenant (O-3)
- Marine Corps: Second Lieutenant (O-1) (page 3)
- Navy: Lieutenant Junior Grade (O-2) (typically promoted to Lieutenant (O-3) after one year). (page 4)
Law students who become commissioned officers in one of the services branches will be assigned as attorneys. The Coast Guard allows officers to request non-legal assignments as does the Marines Corps after the officer’s first tour.
Each of the service branches requires commissioned officers to be U.S. Citizens.
Air Force: 1L, 2L, or 3L year – The Air Force offers three separate programs through which students can apply to be U.S. Air Force Judge Advocates:
- Graduate Law Program. Students must interview with an AFROTC detachment during their first semester of law school. They will attend an AFROTC field training encampment at an Air Force base during the summer before either their second or third year of law school. Upon completion of the AFROTC program and graduation from law school, GLP cadets are commissioned as second lieutenants in an inactive status until they pass the bar, at which time they will enter active duty as first lieutenants.
- One-Year College Program. Students must interview with an AFROTC detachment during the first semester of their second year of law school. They will attend an AFROTC field training encampment at an Air Force base during the summer before their third year of law school. Upon completion of the AFROTC program and graduation from law school, GLP cadets are commissioned as second lieutenants in an inactive status until they pass the bar, at which time they will enter active duty as first lieutenants.
- Direct Appointment Program. Attorneys and students who have completed their second year of law school or have completed two-thirds of their degree requirements may apply for direct appointment as a Judge Advocate. If selected, upon medical qualification, completion of law school and passing the bar, the applicant will be provided a duty assignment. Upon acceptance of the assignment and execution of the oath of office, the applicant enters active duty as a first lieutenant.
- Army: 3L year – Students in their third year of law school may apply for consideration. Applications are due by October 1 and applicants must also schedule an interview with a U.S. Army JAG Corps Field Screening Officer (FSO) prior to that date. If selected, the applicant must meet the Army's medical and weight standards, be able to obtain a security clearance, and be available for worldwide assignment. Applicants will be notified of their proposed assignment prior to incurring any military obligation.
- Coast Guard: 3L year – Third year law students can initiate an application as soon as the previous third year class graduates. The earlier one starts an application, the more opportunity for consideration and selection in that fiscal year. Once considered and selected, training will begin after the July bar exam dates.
- Marine Corps: 1L, 2L, or 3L year – Students interested in the U.S. Marine Corps may apply for the PLC-Law program during their first or second year of law school or for the Officer Candidate Course during their third year. Upon acceptance, participants must complete a 10-week course during one summer at Officer Candidate School in Quantico. Upon completion of OCS, they are sworn in as second lieutenants and placed on inactive duty in the Marine Corps Reserve pending completion of law school and passage of the bar.
- Navy: 2L or 3L year – Students may apply after completing their first year of law school. Upon selection, students are commissioned in the inactive Navy Reserve while they finish law school. After completing law school, gaining bar admission, and successful completion of the Navy Officer Development School, participants are appointed as active-duty Navy judge advocates. This is the most common way to become a Navy JAG Corps officer.
- Air Force: Yes – Newly accepted judge advocates begin their training (Commissioned Officer Training and the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. After completing this training, judge advocates will be assigned based on a variety of factors, including preferences, availability, and the needs of the Air Force. Currently the Air Force has bases throughout the United States and in several locations internationally including, Germany, the UK, Japan, Turkey, and Guam. Typically JAGs move assignments every two years.
- Army: Yes – 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. The Army maintains bases throughout the United States and in several international locations, including Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.
- Coast Guard: No - Newly accepted judge advocates begin their training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT (five weeks) before attending a five-week Operations Orientation Program at various operational commands, including a two-week underway period aboard a Coast Guard cutter. They then attend Naval Justice School in Newport, RI (ten weeks). Upon completion of NJS, judge advocates are assigned to a legal office based upon the needs of the Coast Guard. Your initial assignment is likely to be at one of 12 duty stations. There are no overseas legal positions in the Coast Guard and the chances that a judge advocate would be stationed overseas are remote.
- Marine Corps: Yes – Accepted applicants begin their training (Officer Candidate School) during the summer after their first or second year of law school in Quantico, VA (ten weeks). Upon completion of law school and passage of the bar exam, applicants will spend six months at the Basic School (Quantico, VA). They will then proceed to the Naval Justice School in Newport, RI. Finally, judge advocates are assigned to their first duty stations based on the needs of the Marine Corps. Typical first duty stations include locations in California, Arizona, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Japan. (pages 5-6)
- Navy: Yes – Newly commissioned officers first attend Officer Development School in Newport, RI (five weeks). Upon completion of ODS, judge advocates attend the Naval Justice School (Newport, RI) for ten weeks before receiving their first assignment. The first assignment will be determined based on the needs of the Navy and the preferences expressed by the new officer. Typical locations include bases in the U.S. (i.e. Washington, DC, San Diego, CA, Pensacola, FL), overseas (i.e. Naples, Italy; Yokusuka, Japan), and occasionally combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. On average, officers will typically spend three years at a duty station. While judge advocates can serve at sea, these positions are not available to officers on their first tour of duty. (pages 9-11)
While not all of the services have formal loan reprograms, many judge advocates are eligible to participate in the income-based loan repayment plan of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. Graduating students who will become judge advocates in the subsequent year are also eligible for the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program.
- Air Force: Yes, up to $65,000
- Army: Yes, up to $65,000
- Coast Guard: No
- Marine Corps: No
- Navy: No (but you may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and may receive up to $60,000 in retention bonuses).
Each branch requires a medical examination in order to ensure qualification. While not all of the branches’ Standards of Medical Fitness are available, the Army’s and Navy’s will give a representative sample of what conditions are typically disqualifying. All interested applicants who are unsure about a specific condition are encouraged to speak to a recruiter.
Each of the Armed Forces has specific height and weight requirements which applicants must meet prior to admission.
Physical fitness is a standard requirement for members of each of the armed forces. Each branch has specific requirements. More information may be found at the links below.
As a result of the passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, all restrictions on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals have been lifted.
The Department of Defense’s implementation of the President’s March 23, 2018 memorandum regarding service by transgender individuals is the subject of active litigation. UVA Law students interested in learning more about the rights of transgender individuals to serve in the military are encouraged to research this issue, communicate directly with the military branches that interest them, and to speak with Public Service Center counselors. Resources provided by organizations such as Lambda Legal may also be useful.
Yes. Each of the branches has specific age requirements for recruits as shown below:
- Air Force: Must be commissioned before the age of 40.
- Army: Must be able to serve 20 years of active commissioned service before reaching the age of 62. Thus, for most applicants, the age requirement is to be under the age of 42 at the time of entry onto active duty.
- Coast Guard: Must be at least 21 and have not reached 41 as of September 30 of the fiscal year in which the selection Panel convenes.
- Marine Corps: Must be at least 20 and have not reached 28 at the time of commissioning.
- Navy: Must be younger than 42 years of age when you begin active duty.