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Coast Guard JAG

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The United States Coast Guard’s legal arm is led by a judge advocate general, whose office includes a deputy and military attorneys called judge advocates. Working out of 15 offices nationwide plus a branch in San Juan, Puerto Rico, these personnel provide legal counsel and special assistance in areas ranging from international and maritime law to criminal matters to family law. The Coast Guard’s legal program assists Coast Guard personnel and their families and provides legislative and regulatory guidance for headquarters staff.

The judge advocate general serves as the Coast Guard’s chief legal counsel and oversees all elements of its legal program. As in other military branches, Coast Guard judge advocates also are litigators, serving as prosecutors and defenders of individuals involved in courts-martial. Coast Guard judge advocates are line officers, meaning they can serve in all other operational capacities within the service.

There are two principal ways of becoming a judge advocate in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard Advanced Education Program, the service’s equivalent of graduate school, allows officers currently serving to acquire the necessary legal training. Civilian lawyers and students in their final year of law school can enter the service via the Direct Commission Lawyer Program. In the latter case, prospective judge advocates are commissioned as lieutenants and receive five weeks of training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., followed by two weeks of training aboard a Coast Guard ship and then 10 weeks at the Naval Justice School in Newport, R.I. Once this training is complete, the newly minted judge advocates report for duty.

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