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A Few Good Lawyers: The Marine Corps’ Mission to Recruit Judge Advocates
US Marine Corps | Jul. 18, 2023
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA.: Legend has it that U.S. Marine Capt. William Jones illustrated a request in 1799: “The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement.” Since then, “A Few Good Men,” has been seen on posters, in commercials and as the title of movies.
The Marine Corps is still searching for a few good men to join its illustrious ranks; moreover, in recent years there has been an emphasis on recruiting judge advocates.
“Judge advocates serve an important role in the Marine Corps,” said Capt. Jhonathan J. Morales, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, law programs manager. “Because the Marine Corps is a premier war-fighting organization that operates worldwide, Marine Corps judge advocates are necessary to navigate the complex international laws that are inextricable and inherent to those operations.”
Judge advocates are commissioned officers that are also practicing attorneys. Marine Corps judge advocates have two professions instead of one and as such, they must know how to be a leader, as well as an attorney.
“Marine judge advocates provide a unique capability to commanders,” said Morales.
“Just like a logistics or intelligence officer can provide his or her own unique skillset, having a lawyer on staff allows for our commanders to have on-the-spot legal advice which can prove critical in both war and peacetime operations. On top of that, Marine judge advocates are essential for the administration of justice within the Marine Corps -- both as prosecutors and defense counsels.”
— Capt. Jhonathan J. Morales, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, law programs manager
Last month, Marine Corps Recruiting Command hosted the Educators Workshop on Marine Corps Base Quantico. This workshop gives college educators from across the country the opportunity to see how Marines are recruited, trained, and developed into leaders. Upon completion of the workshop, attending educators returned to their schools and community equipped with a better understanding of the Marine Corps and the ability to tell the Marine Corps story.
Among those attending the Educators Workshop were administrators and educators from law schools across the country. These law educators and administrators attended a specialized, daylong, event exclusive to those in the legal field to broaden their understanding of military law.
The events for the day included a panel discussion with both first term and career judge advocates; a visit to the Judge Advocate Division at the Pentagon; and a brief from Maj. Gen. David J. Bligh, the staff judge advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. During Bligh’s remarks he continued to impress upon the law educators the versatility of the judge advocates.
“Law degrees offer opportunities across practice areas and job sectors,” said Jamie Ruiz, Esq., the assistant director of the office of career and professional development with Touro Law School in New York, “It was great to learn about the multitude of opportunities the JAs have in litigation, transaction law, and non-legal roles.”
With the assistance of supervisory judge advocate mentors, new attorneys immediately begin practicing law in the fields of criminal litigation, institutional compliance, government ethics, and administrative law. This level of involvement in legal proceeding is exclusive to Marine JAs.
“Marine JAs have immediate accountability and autonomy in comparison to their private sector counter parts,” said Ruiz. “Those who are assigned to litigation roles have the opportunity to first chair a trial within months of entering a role which is an experience unique to this position.”
This exposure is also very much responsible for many individuals’ decision to join the Marine Corps, said 1st Lt. Knox Yellin, the assistant deputy staff judge advocate with Marine Corps Recruiting Command, while he was explaining why he became a Marine Corps judge advocate.
Yellin joined the Marine Corps after investigating which branch might be most suitable for his characteristics. He found the Marine Corps stood above the rest for multiple reasons. First, the Marine Corps requires its judge advocates to complete all aspects of officer training. This requirement means that all Marine Corps officers are held to the same standard, Yellin found this approach is different than the other services, which allow judge advocates to go through a shorter and less rigorous training pipeline. Marine judge advocates completing the same training as their peers also helps them better understand the thought processes and decisions made by Marines in other occupational specialties, allowing Marine attorneys to be better advocates for their fellow Marines.
“Marine Corps judge advocates are essentially guaranteed litigation experience, as their first tour requires them to either prosecute or defend Marines in the court of law,” said Yellin. “Also, Marine Corps judge advocates have the opportunity to be assigned a command billet, meaning they obtain excellent leadership experience and can learn skills outside the legal field. These distinctions made the decision simple; the Marine Corps was the only option.”
“[Yellin] is among the best students I’ve ever had,” said Phillip Pucillio, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law and Educators Workshop attendee. Among many accomplishments and characteristics, Pucillo is also a former professor of Yellin’s. “It isn’t surprising to me at all that he makes a good Marine as well. I hope to be able to be a part of other students’ journeys into the Marine Corps.”
Marines who serve as Judge Advocates are responsible for upholding the law, codes and values of the Marine Corps. These specially trained legal professionals can work in roles where they represent both individual Marines and the Corps to fight and win battles at every court level in the Nation.