Externship Profile: U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Office

Growing up in a military family and having a concrete desire to apply to the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate Office (JAG) after law school attracted Jose Gonzalez, 3L, to work as an extern for two months with the U.S. Navy JAG Office located in Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA.

During the externship, Gonzalez worked on a variety of legal and ethical issues with a staff judge advocate, and also with the Legal Assistance office. His day-to-day duties consisted of reviewing requests and investigations for the commanding officers of the base, and providing legal advice on these matters.

“The majority of my time was spent in the staff judge advocate office where the client was technically the Navy, and we interacted on a daily basis with the commanding officers of the base.  When I got to spend time on the Legal Assistance side our clients were sailors and their dependents,” said Gonzalez.

Working with sailors from a variety of backgrounds taught Gonzalez how to take an individualized approach to each case and to use an array of methods to explain the legal issues involved with each case.  He also learned that while the JAG office is a vital part of the Navy, it is in a unique position and must maintain a professional distance in order to properly function.

His most interesting experience was sitting in on Article 32 hearings. “Article 32 hearings are the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, but there are a few key differences that make it very interesting,” said Gonzalez. “For example, witnesses are called and the prosecution asks questions but the defense counsel gets to cross examine. The accused are also there and can be given the chance to speak. The presiding officer then makes a recommendation to the convening authority on whether or not the charges should be brought to court martial (military court). It is interesting that the person that makes the actual decision is never in the court room. They just have the file and the presiding officer’s recommendation.”

Along with gaining legal experience, Gonzalez was able to tour the USS Stennis and go out to sea on the USS Ford, a fast frigate. These experiences allowed him to see how part of working with the Navy JAG requires participation with the ships and their duties.

Overall the experience was distinctive and rewarding for Gonzalez. “My favorite part of working with the Navy is getting to see how the Navy actually works in the legal setting. It is very different than any legal firm one could work in, and I was glad I got to experience it. Getting to work with attorneys who have 20 plus years in the Navy was unique because they helped educate me on how the legal environment has changed and continues to change in the military,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is a native of Beaufort S.C. and received his bachelor’s degree from College of Charleston before enrolling at the Charleston School of Law. He is the first Charleston Law student to work as an extern for the Navy JAG in Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA.

Charleston School of Law’s externship program allows students to gain practical work experience while earning course credit. Students complement their classroom studies by working under the direct supervision of members of the judiciary or attorneys in the public sector. This summer, Charleston School of Law students are at 35 exciting externships sites helping the community. Since fall 2006, Charleston School of Law students have completed approximately 82, 114 externship hours. The externship course is offered during the fall, spring and summer terms. For more information please contact Professor James Klein or Autumn Jones.

Story by: Alexis Economy
Top photo by: Graham Ervin