Originally published in the Spring 2015 Edition of The Quill & Sword, the official newsletter of the United States Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
I truly enjoyed my time in the service, and fondly reflect on so many of the experiences. I am thankful that I had lawyer mentors like Marcia Nelson Hadjis, Greg Gross, Jeff Nance, Peter Becker, and Kevan Jacobson. COL Chris Maher, my Staff Judge Advocate, taught me to find out what is really important to your client, and to find a way to help them accomplish their goals legally. They showed me that you can fight hard for your clients, and that at the end of the day you can be friends with your opposing counsel.
I also learned from my deployment experiences. While my deployment service pales in comparison to those who have served recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, I deployed to the hostile fire zones that existed at the time. The professionalism of the staff officers with whom I worked in the Tactical Operations Center in Tuzla, BosniaHerzegovina and later in Slavonski Brod, Croatia was inspiring. I worked harder, because I did not want to let these professionals down.
Among the most important lessons I learned was the value of careful preparation, hard work, and focusing on what is important. Then Major General George Casey taught
“deliberate flexibility.” That is, plan extensively, but leave room to take advantage of opportunities that appear.
I am most proud of being a part of some great teams Task Force Eagle in BosniaHerzegovina, Task Force Able Sentry in Macedonia, the 1st Armored Division, and TDS. The things that we accomplished made me proud to be a part. I have continued that tradition with the National Children’s Advocacy Center and the Alabama State Bar.
As President of the Alabama State Bar, I have focused on access to justice. Lawyers have a monopoly on the provision of legal services, so if we don’t provide pro bono services to people that need it, it won’t get done. I’ve worked to establish Veterans’ Courts and to meet the legal needs of our veterans, service members, and their families. The National Children’s Advocacy Center is another example of an organization that focuses on providing services to those most in need.
I encourage current Judge Advocates to enjoy the experience that they receive in the Army. While my work in private practice is rewarding, no law firm has the camaraderie that you experience practicing law in the military. The military provides practical experience in many areas of the law that ultimately make you a stronger advocate in any setting.
I am frequently asked about the transition from the military to the civilian world. We all leave the military service with years of practice ahead of us. I encourage judge advocates to spend as much time preparing for separation as they spent preparing to enter the military. Learn about different practice areas, and take the time to identify where you want to practice when you leave Active Duty. Understanding the practice in your area will better prepare you to explain how your military experience translates into your new practice area. Reach out to your friends and colleagues to understand how civilian practice is different, and how the legal market in your area is different.
It is hard to express how important my military service has been in my life. Practicing in front of military judges who took the time to mentor as well as preside over cases made such a difference. Learning the rules of evidence at OBC and at the Criminal Law Advocacy Course, and applying that knowledge at the side of so many terrific advocates, made me more successful in my present practice.