Law Students Choose Dress Blues Over Pinstripes: U.Va. Produces Four New JAG Officers
Four graduating law students who entered the Law School as civilians have bypassed lucrative firm salaries to instead serve their country through the Navy and Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps. The students qualify for the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program, which will forgive loans for those working in public service or in underserved areas of Virginia.
"It's what I've wanted to do since I was four years old," said third-year law student Ensign Christopher Colby, a University of Miami alum who said he grew up on the water. "It's just something that is in my blood." Colby has uncles who served in the Air Force and Army, but he will be the first naval officer in his family. Going to law school before entering the military "allows me to better set my own course," he said. Fellow Ensigns Erin Quay and Craig Warner join him in the Navy, while Brian Green plans to serve in the Air Force.
Quay explained that entrance into the Navy JAG Corps depends on acceptance of an application and interview, followed by a physical exam and fitness test, and a security clearance check. Navy JAG officers undergo six weeks of Officer Indoctrination School and nine weeks at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. They then serve on a Navy vessel for two weeks before settling into their permanent station.
"It's just such a wonderful way to serve your country," said Quay, who spent time in firm and public service positions during her summers. "It's a great feeling to be part of something so special."
Quay is interested in pursuing trial work, and plans to serve at one of the Navy's Trial Service Offices, which focuses on prosecution and problems in the field. Colby prefers the Naval Legal Services Office, which centers on defense of military personnel, claims against the Navy, and providing legal assistance to sailors and Marines.
Colby interned with the Navy JAG Corps over his first-year summer at Naval Station Norfolk.
"He was able to get involved and see what we did and basically worked as a law clerk for us," said Lt. Jeff Sutton. Sutton explained that few Navy JAG lawyers serve on ships, since they are only assigned to the largest vessels-two are assigned to each aircraft carrier, and some work on amphibious ships.
Future Air Force JAG Corps member Brian Green started seriously thinking about signing up when housemate Craig Warner signed up for the Navy. Green said he was attracted to the Air Force because he wanted to serve his country, especially in light of the war on Iraq and on terrorism. He also likes to travel and appreciated the service's interest in physical activity and a balanced life. The 40-hour weeks don't hurt either; a double-major in studio art and political science, Green hopes to pursue interests outside work. Green, the youngest member of his class at 22, won't find out where he's stationed until after he passes the bar, but will attend the Air Force JAG School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
The Air Force starts its JAG lawyers working on prosecution, and after they gain more experience they can apply for defense attorney positions, or work on environmental, labor, or contract issues. The opportunities are broad, and there are "always places where it bumps up against other kinds of law."
Warner, who was commissioned into the Navy Friday at the Army JAG School neighboring the Law School, said he always wanted to join the military. But "not for a second do I think [serving in JAG] is the same as those guys sweating and bleeding in Baghdad right now," he said. "I don't think anyone does it when there's not a legitimate part of them that wants to serve." Warner said the September 11 attacks influenced his decision to serve.
"That's the kind of event that makes you want to do something, even if you're not in a position to strap on a rifle and go hunt down terrorists," he said. "You want to do what you're equipped to do. In the end I don't think it's much of a sacrifice because we're going to have a good life."
Warner and Green praised the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Plan for allowing them to pursue public service. "We are very grateful for it and we were very encouraged by it," said Warner, who added that he earmarked most of his class donation to go toward the program. "I think it's important for people to have the opportunity to do public service," he said.
Students interested in finding out more about JAG or exploring a summer with them should contact Jason Wu Trujillo, Director of Public Service, at firstname.lastname@example.org.