Okay, I wrote this quickly last night because this week has been NUTS!!! I started my summer internship on Monday, and possibly learned more in the last three days than in my entire torts class. I’ll talk briefly about those three days here, but I’ll revisit this topic as we move through the summer!
Bright and early Monday morning, I rolled onto base and got myself a government-issued laptop and VPN connection. I’m doing most of my work remotely, so this was a MUST. I wore my uniform on base, but that was largely unnecessary – it was a total ghost town. Monday was also my first time checking my military email address since July 2019, so I have about 800 emails to go through.
It took a few hours, but I had a working email, Zoom, and access to the legal office share drives by the time I went home. Microsoft teams and the other databases were a little more difficult, but I had enough to start working.
At 1400 on Monday, I joined a Zoom call with the “civil” side of the legal house – they handle legal advice for airmen, divorces, wills, civil claims and investigations, etc. The civil law group is made up of myself and another summer intern (joining next week), two LTs, a Captain, a Major, and a mix of enlisted and civilian paralegals. Everyone is super nice, but the meeting showed me how many things they juggle every day.
Here’s how the military works. You talk with your direct supervisor all throughout the week; then you meet with the office to prep for a meeting with the bosses; THEN you have the official meeting with bosses present. Basic idea: have your ducks in a row before you talk to the colonels. In the prep meeting, I got to see behind the curtain as the civil law team discussed upcoming cases, closed cases, wills, tort claims, recruiting JAGs from nearby schools, writing preventative legal articles, and legal assistance meetings.
CDI Legal Review
I mostly listened at the prep meeting, but also picked up my first official task! I’m working on a legal review for a Commander-Directed Investigation (CDI), which entails reviewing the investigative work of another officer. A CDI works like this: first, someone goes to their commander and notifies them of an incident. The Commander decides to take a closer look, and appoints an Investigating Officer (literally, a random officer from a different unit) who works with a JAG to perform a full investigation. This includes interviewing witnesses, collecting statements and evidence, and writing a report on whether or not the allegations are substantiated. After the CDI is complete, the review goes to a different JAG for a legal review (that’s me!) before the entire package is sent back to the Commander. Ultimately, the Commander reads the CDI and legal review and makes the ultimate determination about whether to pursue charges and punishment.
Of COURSE I’m terrified…I’m using a bunch of Air Force regulations, formatting guides, old docs and various templates to cobble this review together. Real lawyers will obviously review my review, but I don’t want to hand them junk!!
The other thing featuring heavily in my week is drafting wills. I kind of dreaded wills to be honest (first of all, that’s pure paperwork; second, property law scared any “fun” out of them). But that was silly; drafting a military will is actually a pretty simple process! Step 1: interview the client and fill out a standardized “will questionnaire.” Step 2: fill in a will template with that information. Step 3: review the final product and have the client sign it with two witnesses. That’s it!
This week (and last), the Hanscom legal office had an influx of members needing wills because they’re deploying soon. This morning I’ll listen in on a phone call between a JAG and one of the deployers, which will be a quick review of the will’s content before the deployer goes onto base to execute (sign) the will. I’ll help with that too, at 1400 today – but just as a witness, not in an official capacity!
The other half of my summer involves the criminal side of the house, which is all the “fun stuff,” if you will. Hanscom isn’t a big criminal base – there are only a handful of court-martials each year, and only a few of those actually go to trial – but when they do, they go BIG! Bringing a case to court-martial is an extensive process, and made even more so during a pandemic. I was lucky to walk into an active case, and saw my first preferral of charges yesterday (basically the equivalent of a civilian indictment, when a defendant is informed of the charges brought against him/her). Obviously I won’t go into details, but here’s a fun one: a preferral takes all of three minutes and was the most anticlimactic thing of my life.
One huge difference between military and civilian justice is that a servicemember’s commander has HUGE legal power over the servicemember. The commander decides when they want to pursue charges, which charges, and what punishment to administer (sometimes – when cases actually go to trial, determinations of guilt and punishments are decided by a classic judge or jury). Imagine your civilian boss could charge you with a crime, decide you’re guilty, AND assign you jail time…that’s kinda how this is! giving your civilian boss the ability to charge you with crimes, try you, and assign you jail time.
A crazy thought, right?
With great power comes great responsibility, and most commanders are VERY aware of their legal responsibility. Yesterday I got an email from one of my supervisors, who in turn had just received a legal question from a commander who wanted to take specific action with one of their members. My supervisor forwarded me the question and docs regarding the member, gave me an Air Force regulation, and told me to figure it out! (Nicely – but I really did have to find him an answer).
After I replied, my supervisor let me know that “reg questions” happen all the time – commanders often seek unnecessary legal assistance to make sure they’re doing everything by the book. He said it can be trying at times, but it reflects positively on both parties.
Meetings & Phone Calls
Apart from the 1400 civil law “prep” meeting, I’ve also been on an official civil law meeting, an official criminal law meeting, a will phone call, a Motions training, and have an upcoming Staff Meeting (which is a mass gathering of the entire legal office. Via Zoom, of course). I’ve also been on and off the phone with my Captain bosses pretty much all day, as they call to explain the events I’m taking part in, check on the work I’m doing, and basically get me up to speed on how the office runs.
It’s only been three days and I am TIRED – but also very happy to be learning so much. The Colonel in charge of this legal office has a personal goal that when I roll into an Air Force legal unit as an actual Judge Advocate, I’ll NEVER encounter something completely unfamiliar. It’s a tall order but, looking back at the first three days, we might be on track to make that happen!