JAG: Not just a crappy TV show

by Vault Law Editors | August 13, 2009

  • My Vault

Final post on last Friday’s Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Career Fair: I chatted with one Cmdr. Dave G. Wilson, a fleet staff judge advocate with the Navy (and, much more importantly, the senior recruiter at the JAG fair booth). As Vault’s CEO mentioned on his blog yesterday, more government agencies set up shop at the fair this year than in years past, flattening (but not neutralizing) the impact of lower private firm participation. The fact that more of BigLaw, for obvious reasons (resesh-what?), had less jobs to offer this year didn’t translate to fewer attendees: Nearly three times as many laterals registered for this year’s event over last year’s, while slightly more students followed suit.

With these odds in mind, the legal talent apparently flocked to Wilson and Co. like stodgy dramas to CBS. As the fair’s end drew nigh around 3 p.m., Wilson reported that “I haven’t stopped talking since we set up at 9:30 (that morning).” Wilson, who bore a strong resemblance to an older, wiser and less obnoxious Derek Fisher, said the JAG program typically adds around 70 attorneys every year to its roughly 750-strong contingent. Hiring criteria appears less stringent than that of BigLaw firms, with law students of every grade level eligible to apply (Wilson found acceptance as a 2L). Established lawyers, however, will find themselves hoeing a lonely road: Wilson said that “the majority of people we hire are people straight out of law school.”

While he couldn’t provide figures for 2009, Wilson confirmed that the JAG program experienced “a tremendous increase in applications in 2008.” Once accepted, candidates must finish law school before traveling to Office Development School in Newport, R.I., where they join other recent professional school graduates—doctors, dentists, etc.—in learning “about the Navy.” Over the course of six weeks, JAG trainees learn to communicate with military formality, iron their precision whites, and kill with their bare hands march in formation. After that, it’s off to Naval Justice School—a crash-course in military law that readies recruits for the demands of the actual task of daily legal practice, which begins immediately after graduation (no Drinker Biddle-like neophyte coddling here).

As for Wilson, he’s risen to the upper echelon of the corps after 20 years of service. No longer practicing on a day-to-day basis, he helps coordinate the deployment of international naval fleets, especially those involving America’s European allies, from the massive naval base at Norfolk, Va. This sounds like fascinating work. Our conversation ended rather abruptly, however, when he admitted to having played no role in the recent multi-nation deployment of warships sent to combat Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Because really, Commander—if it ain’t about pirates, we’re just not listening.

- posted by ben fuchs

Filed Under: Law

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