PUBLISHED:September 15, 2008

Navy lawyer tells students the military offers unique opportunities for young lawyers

Sept. 16, 2008 -- A military lawyer told Duke Law students about opportunities in the Naval JAG Corps as part of a presentation on military law Sept. 12.

“One thing I’ve really liked about being practicing law in the military is that you immediately have caseloads and client contact,” said Lt. Justin Boyd, a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Kent College of Law.

“There’s a process to join the Navy, but basically, if you graduate from law school this spring, by Christmas you could be sitting at a desk handling cases.”

Boyd said he appreciates the range of legal issues he has been able to address in two years as a JAG lawyer. He has worked on criminal defense cases, estate planning, wills, family law and consumer law. He has appreciated the variety of practice venues as well, he added.

“You could be doing a court martial over a simple theft, but you might be doing it in Iraq, or on a ship. You might have to be flown to Iraq for a couple of weeks on a case. The legal issues are just as challenging, or more challenging than situations you’d encounter elsewhere, and you might be handling them on an aircraft carrier.”

Boyd and his commanding officer, Capt. David Wagner, were introduced by Professor Robinson Everett, a former chief judge of the United States Court of Military Appeals.

Wagner offered a brief overview of military justice in Western civilization, beginning with the Romans. “One thing common to militaries throughout time – discipline is essential to victory,” Wagner said. “There has to be discipline, or you lose.”

Military justice was essentially a disciplinary tool with little resemblance to an organized legal system until modern times, Wagner explained. The American Civil War sparked some of the first fundamental changes in American military justice.

“You had many citizen soldiers in that war,” Wagner said. “Now if you’re a leader who is not good at leading or you find yourself with soldiers who aren’t responsive, you might overcompensate. So there were punishments in the Civil War that clearly exceeded offenses. Then the citizen soldiers went home and complained and spread the word. That led to a rewrite of the military legal system.”

The Uniform Code of Military Justice, a comprehensive rewrite of American military law, was written in 1951. The creation of the code was influenced by several factors, Wagner said, including abuse of authority, congressional and media interest in high-profile cases, and the creation of a unified defense department over all branches of the military.