What is the Navy JAG Corps?

M. McGee

The Navy Judge Advocates General, or Navy JAG Corps, is the branch of the United States Navy that handles internal matters of law and legal policy. Its members, called judge advocates, do everything from assisting members of the Navy in civilian maters, such as drawing up wills or reviewing leases, to prosecuting, defending, or presiding over military trials. The Navy Jag Corps handle all matters pertaining to the Navy and the U.S. Marines, but overlapping with the JAG Corps of other service branches is not uncommon.

President Lyndon Johnson established the offices of the current Navy JAG Corps in 1967.
President Lyndon Johnson established the offices of the current Navy JAG Corps in 1967.

The Navy JAG Corps as we know it today began during the American Civil War. A court-martial case required that the Navy have official legal representation, so Nathaniel Wilson was appointed Solicitor of the Navy Department. A few years later, the U.S. Congress authorized the president to appoint a Solicitor and Naval Judge Advocate General, the precursor to the modern Navy JAG Corps. The current JAG Corps came into being in 1967 when U.S. President Lyndon Johnson established the offices and gave official ranks and responsibilities to those serving within it.

Candidates for the Navy JAG Corps have training nearly identical to American civilian lawyers. Most potential candidates progress through standard civilian law school and may apply for a JAG position at any time before, during or after school. The Navy requires different information depending on which stage the candidate is at, but the requirements are similar to many advanced job placements or internships. If the candidate has finished law school, he must have also passed the bar exam.

After receiving a position in the Navy JAG Corps, all candidates undergo a similar introduction. The candidate receives special training at one of the U.S. military’s specialized law schools. The school specifically for naval officers is the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island, but it isn’t uncommon for naval candidates to attend one of the other two schools in Charlottesville, Virginia and Montgomery, Alabama. After finishing JAG training, the officer is licensed to practice law in any locality or military base and is considered a full JAG officer.

As they are the main legal representatives for all levels of the Navy and Marines, members of the Navy JAG Corps have a wide range of duties. These duties generally fall into two main groups; working as defense, prosecution or judge during a court martial or advising servicemen on legal matters pertaining both to military and civilian life. While working on a court martial, the judge advocate's job is nearly identical to that of many American lawyers or judges, except they also have military laws to consider. While working with servicemen as legal counsel, they may have jobs ranging from looking over a contract to instructing people on local laws and customs.

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