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What does a Military Lawyer do?

By Jodee Redmond
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A military lawyer performs many of the same duties as his or her civilian counterpart. The difference is that the lawyer is working for and with military personnel. Each branch of the Armed Services in the United States has its own Judge Advocate General service, which means that a person can become an Army, Marine, Air Force or Navy lawyer. The legal staff in the military participate in court martial cases, but they also provide other types of services to military personnel, including providing advice about family law matters.

People who work for the military as legal counsel go through the same training as civilian lawyers do. They complete the requirements for becoming a lawyer before enlisting in the branch of the military they are interested in serving with. The prospective military lawyer completes an undergraduate degree, writes the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and goes to law school. He or she studies criminal law, contract law, family law, civil procedure, torts and other topics during law school.

Since the military prosecutes its members for summary offenses and more serious criminal offenses itself, a military lawyer may work on court martial cases. Legal officers are required to work for the prosecution and to defend a person who is subject to the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The most serious cases are heard by a panel of at least five senior military personnel and a military judge, or the accused my choose to have the case tried by a military judge alone.

A court martial proceeding operates in a similar way to a civilian criminal trial. In all but a summary court martial, the person accused of a crime has the right to retain legal counsel and to present evidence to the court martial panel. The military lawyer will question defense witnesses and cross-examine those produced by the prosecution as part of the proceedings. The lawyer would help to prepare witnesses for offering testimony at the court martial, as well as counsel his or her client about whether testifying or remaining silent is the best way to proceed.

Another function the military lawyer may perform is to offer advice about family law matters. Special rules apply for members of the Armed Forces who are getting divorced. These rules pertain to where the papers may be filed to start a divorce proceeding and when a person on active duty may be served with divorce papers. Military pensions, which are subject to division as marital property, are another area where a military lawyer can offer appropriate advice as part of his or her job-related duties.

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