Officers serving in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps are called judge advocates. A judge advocate is a commissioned officer who serves in the United States military as a JAG lawyer. A JAG lawyer can act in the capacity of a prosecutor, defense counsel, a judge and an adviser. U.S. military branches that hire judge advocates include the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.
JAG lawyers are not civilians, they are active military officers. JAG Corps training is not the same type of boot camp training that enlisted soldiers go through, and each JAG program will differ, depending on the military branch. JAG training introduces trainees to a particular branch of the armed services and to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The forum where a judge advocate prosecutes a criminal case or defends military personnel in a criminal matter is called a court-martial. A court-martial is where criminal cases for the armed forces are tried. In addition to criminal law, a JAG lawyer also practices administrative law, which includes personnel, environmental issues and the Freedom of Information Act; labor law; contract law; medical and malpractice law; and civil litigation, such as representing U.S. tort claims.
For most JAG lawyers, the bulk of their day-to-day work will involve legal assistance to military personnel and their families, which includes drafting wills, tax and estate planning, immigration and naturalization, power of attorney, family law and landlord-tenant issues. After serving as JAG lawyers and attaining additional training, JAG lawyers also can become judges at courts-martial. In addition, judge advocates can teach other military lawyers to become judge advocates.
A JAG lawyer must commit to at least four years of military service. JAG lawyers also are considered to be military officers first and lawyers second. However, in most cases, JAG lawyers do not actively participate in combat but can be stationed anywhere in the world that legal services are needed.