PUBLISHED:February 04, 2013

Duke Law students begin careers in public service as military lawyers

A significant number of 3Ls plan to start their careers as military lawyers.

As of early February, four members of the Class of 2013 had accepted positions as judge advocates.  Chase Rolls will join the Army JAG Corps following graduation, as will Phil Aubart, after the completion of a yearlong (Army-sanctioned) clerkship with Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.  Lauren Bugg and Brian Flanagan have accepted positions as Air Force JAGs, and Saleena Siraj will work for the Navy as a civilian lawyer.  Still more Duke Law students are applying for JAG selection boards in the spring, said Professor Charles Dunlap, the executive director of Duke’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security (LENS).

“I am thrilled to see this number of Duke students pursuing a public service career as a military lawyer,” said Dunlap, who joined the faculty in 2010 after serving as deputy judge advocate general of the Air Force, retiring with the rank of major general.   “It is an extremely competitive process that selects only about one in 20 applicants, so these great young people ought to feel proud of themselves.  Grades are an important factor, but the selection process also looks for bright young people with an authentic work ethic, demonstrated initiative, unquestioned integrity, and a real sense of adventure.  Our Duke students plainly showed all of those qualities.”

Aubart entered Duke Law with his eyes on the JAG Corps, having served as an enlisted member of the Army Intelligence Corps before attending Dartmouth College on an ROTC scholarship.  Having come to Duke with an interest in public interest law, Flanagan says his early attraction to the JAG Corps was confirmed by conversations with Dunlap and Professor Scott Silliman, LENS’ director emeritus and another former Air Force lawyer.

“Their enthusiasm about what they were doing [as JAGs] and the belief that they were doing something good for the country was genuine, and that’s what really excited me,” said Flanagan.  “I think that fervor and that commitment to public service and, especially, to your nation, was [reflective of] the type of people I wanted to surround myself with from the start.  They emphasized, as did [Assistant Dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono] Kim Bart, the immediate courtroom experience and the diversity of the work offered by the JAG Corps, which was certainly interesting from a practical standpoint, but what really resonated with me was that these people seemed happy with their work because they were doing something good.  And when I said I want to do public interest it’s because I want to take that same type of pride in my work.”

A robust curriculum related to national security, military justice

In addition to receiving advice and assistance with their applications and interview preparation –and even summer jobs – Flanagan and Aubart both have taken such classes as National Security Law and Criminal Law in the Armed Forces, all courses taught or co-taught by Dunlap and Silliman, who also is a federal appellate judge on the United States Court of Military Commission Review.  Dunlap also teaches Use of Force in International Law, The International Law of Armed Conflict, Legal and Policy Issues of Civil-Military Relations, and Ethical Issues of the Practice of National Security Law.

“All of these classes are special not only for their topics, but also for the unique connection the professors have to the topics,” said Aubart.  “Professors Dunlap and Silliman have an incredible amount of experience with each of the topics they teach. They can speak not only from the theoretical position of the cases and the law, but from their personal experience.”

“I hasten to say that while these are terrific courses for aspiring military lawyers, the vast majority of the students who take them actually go to clerkships, law firms and other practices outside of the armed forces,” said Dunlap, whose scholarship focuses on national security, international law, civil-military relations, cyberwar, and military justice.  “I think that a lot of people are realizing that national defense is a $600+ billion enterprise in this country, so there is a huge business aspect to it.  In fact, when you think about it, there are few law practices of any kind that are not — and will not be — impacted in some way by security issues. 

“These courses are also a superb way of learning a variety of skills such as case analysis, legal reasoning, advocacy, ethics and more,” he added.  “When the issues at stake are literally ones of life and death, the clarity is profound, and that facilitates the learning process.”

Duke’s Guantanamo Defense Clinic, in which law students assist lawyers in the Office of Military Commissions Defense at the Department of Defense with the representation of Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, is another, if less obvious, route through which students discover an interest in military justice.

“The students in the Guantanamo Clinic come to understand that the issues are, at every level, complex, and that the military justice system is interesting,” said Professor Madeline Morris, an expert in counterterrorism law and policy, international criminal law, the law of war, transnational jurisdiction, and public international law, who directs the clinic.  “Several have concluded that the JAG Corps would be a good place to work.  They get that in part from the substance of what they do and the issues they deal with, and in part from their interactions with military counsel.”

LENS’ annual conference, too, has helped boost the visibility of Duke’s curriculum and scholarly contributions to the fields of national security and military law.  The 2013 event, scheduled for March 1-2 at Duke Law, is titled “Battlefields, Boardrooms, and Backyards:  The New Face of National Security Law.”  National and international experts from the military, intelligence, legal, civil liberties, and academic communities will discuss a range of topics, from cyberwar, security technology and privacy, and robotic weapons, to military commissions and civil-military relations. 

A call to serve                                                                                                                                   

Like Silliman and Dunlap, Morris hopes that more Duke Law students will give serious consideration to careers as military lawyers.  “A commitment to constitutional values attracts students to the Guantanamo Clinic,” said Morris, “and, not infrequently, leads to a sustained engagement with the fundamental meaning and the importance of the military justice system.”

“The military isn’t for everyone,” said Dunlap, “but for those who really do want a lot of responsibility very early in their legal careers, the armed forces will provide that.  In addition, a lot of students are interested in international law and living overseas, and military service provides such opportunities.

“More than that, the military provides the chance to work with other dedicated and energetic attorneys who share a commitment to public service, who want to be part of values-based organization larger than themselves, and who in a very special way are willing to take the path less travelled,” he said.  “It is exciting – and a lot of fun – to be surrounded with people like that.  And, of course, there is genuine patriotism, a real sense of wanting to give back to the country.  I don’t know if I ever met a former JAG who regretted his or her service.”