President's Message

Military Lawyers In Service

ABA, JAG Corps Assist Our Citizen-Soldiers and Families on the Home Front

Posted Nov 25, 2006 1:37 AM CDT
By Karen J. Mathis

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This month, we commemorate Veterans Day, honoring the men and women in the U.S. armed forces who protect America’s freedom. We also celebrate the service of military lawyers, who guard the legal rights of 1.4 million armed service members on active duty.

There are more than 10,000 JAGs and civilian lawyers working in the military, both in active duty and reserves. They are a significant legal community in their own right, and they are an important and growing part of the American Bar Association’s mission.

Quality legal assistance is more critical than ever in the current military environment. Today, many thousands of citizen-soldiers who are heads of households and family providers have been deployed to war zones, often for a year at a time or longer. These departures leave huge gaps in their families’ lives. Along with critical criminal law work in the area of military justice, JAGs are meeting a strong and constant demand for civil legal services from their clients. The ABA sections, particularly Family Law, have worked hand in hand with JAGs to assist military personnel with many of these legal issues.

In recent months, the ABA Youth at Risk Initiative has begun forming new partnerships with the JAG Corps to find ways to help youngsters in military communities. With the strains caused by active duty on the rise, it’s essential that our nation continue to actively support the children and families of our soldiers. Ret. Marine Brig. Gen. David C. Hague has joined the ABA Commission on Youth at Risk and is providing invaluable leadership in this area.

Military lawyers, working through the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel, have taken a leading role on another issue affecting the military community: predatory lending.

Service personnel--mostly young and living on the financial edge--have been victimized by a few greedy lending companies that lure them into “payday” loans, the annual interest on which can rise to as high as 800 percent.

LAMP has worked closely with Congress to draft new legislation that would cap annual loans to service personnel at 36 percent.

Multiple Efforts

At present, military lawyers are concentrated in several parts of the ABA. Some work within the General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division, which considers itself the home of the military lawyer in the ABA. Others are active in the Military Lawyers Conference of the Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division. LAMP has been the proud home of military civil legal assistance within the ABA since 1941, when its predecessor group first worked to improve delivery of civil legal services to service members.

In addition to LAMP, the Standing Committee for Armed Forces Law focuses on the military justice system. The committee’s goal is to improve the administration of laws, regulations and practices in the armed services; protect the legal rights of military personnel; and enable lawyers and judges in the armed forces to conform to all applicable ABA standards. Today, JAG officers are serving in a variety of presidential appointment positions in the ABA, bringing their skill and dedication to these posts.

I am a member of a four-generation military family. My dad retired from Fort Carson, Colo.; I interned with Army JAG during law school; and I have a niece and nephew in the U.S. Air Force, as well as a niece who served 31⁄2 years on the USS Kitty Hawk. I am proud of our servicewomen and men--and the lawyers who watch over their needs and rights.

In these trying times, when our nation is asking much of those in uniform and their families, the ABA’s commitment to the legal rights and needs of those who serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard is vital. We salute the military lawyers, whose dedicated service makes those rights realities. God bless them all.

The third in a series of columns that discuss aspects of the profession: how it serves our nation and the law.

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