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What does an Army Judge Advocate General do?

By Dale Marshall
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Army Judge Advocate General is the highest ranking U.S. Army lawyer and is the commander of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, a support branch devoted to providing legal support and assistance to command staff as well as to the line personnel of the Army. The Army Judge Advocate General is responsible for seeing that the mission of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, commonly referred to as “Jag Corps,” is properly accomplished. The JAG Corps is comprised primarily of officers, and all are lawyers.

Commonly called the oldest law firm in the United States, the JAG Corps was founded by General George Washington in 1775. Contemporary members of the JAG Corps first complete their civilian legal training and and their bar exams. Upon acceptance to JAG, they are commissioned as Captains in the Army and sent to a number of different Army posts for basic military training, officer training and academic legal training oriented around the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Competition for acceptance into the JAG Corps is high, and the army judge advocate general plays a critical role in the selection of candidates, reviewing applications and making recommendations.

Like most of the other support branches in the Army, members of the JAG Corps, called Judge Advocates, are deployed among different Army units worldwide to provide legal advice and counsel for unit commanders as well as to provide legal advice to military personnel. Judge advocates routinely serve as the prosecuting and defense counsels, and judges, in courts-martial. A judge advocate is usually assigned to serve as Staff Judge Advocate for any general with the authority to convene a general court-martial. The assignment of personnel to the different posts worldwide is one of the functions of the army judge advocate general.

The Army Judge Advocate General and the Corps he leads have a significant impact on the defense posture of the United States. The young men and women who serve in the Army are sometimes preyed upon by unscrupulous people who take advantage of their youth and inexperience, and entice them into making sometimes irresponsible financial decisions, such as purchasing vehicles and consumer appliances on credit terms they cannot afford. When members of the service get into financial difficulty, their military readiness is impaired. Judge Advocates often get involved in these cases when soldiers are overwhelmed with debt and are pursued by debt collectors, and are often quite successful in helping resolve these cases.

The JAG Corps operates a military legal training school adjoining the University of Virginia law school. This school, called the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS), has its own commandant, but is under the supervision of the army judge advocate general. Accredited by the American Bar Association, the school offers a Master of Laws degree and annually hosts military lawyers from all five US military services as well as international students. TJAGLCS is also responsible for training officers appointed as military judges from all US military services.

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