The United States Marine Corps' Judge Advocate Division serves both to advise the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) and other officials in Headquarters, Marine Corps on legal matters, and to oversee the Marine Corps legal community. The head of the Judge Advocate Division (JAD) is the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant (SJA to CMC).
Judge advocates (JAs) in the Marine Corps work under the supervision of the SJA to the CMC to advise Marine commanders regarding legal issues including the laws of war, and handling of criminal cases under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Marine Corps lawyers are line officers, unlike their counterparts in the United States Navy and Army, which means they can fill any officer billet in the Fleet Marine Force.
The SJA to CMC has three deputies. One serves as Deputy SJA and Deputy Director of JAD for HQMC Legal Support. Another serves as Deputy Director of JAD for Military Justice and Community Development. The third serves as Deputy Director of JAD for Reserve Legal Support. JAD is divided into seven branches that fall under two of the three deputies:
The SJA to CMC also exercises functional supervision over two independent legal organizations within the Marine Corps:
The list of SJAs to the CMC includes:
A Marine officer with a law degree attends Naval Justice School where he or she is instructed in the fundamental principles of military justice, civil and administrative law, and legal assistance, with practical application of those principles, in order to assist in the attainment of good order and discipline and a high standard of legal practice and administration. Upon graduation from the school, the Marine is designated as a judge advocate (MOS 4402) and will begin his tour in the Fleet Marine Force as an attorney.
Judge advocates provide legal advice and support to commanders, Marines, sailors, and their families to promote the readiness of the force and contribute to Marine Corps mission accomplishment.
The 4402 MOS is assigned as a primary MOS to an officer who has:
As company grade officers, judge advocates ordinarily serve as litigators, legal assistance attorneys, victims’ legal counsel, assistant review officers, or command legal advisors. Litigation opportunities exist as trial, defense, and victims’ legal counsel in courts-martial; as Special Assistant United States Attorneys in United States federal court; and as recorders, counsel for the respondent, or victims’ legal counsel in administrative discharge boards. Judge Advocates either conduct or supervise investigations into claims for and against the United States and other matters required by regulations. Judge advocates provide command legal advice on matters including military justice, administrative law, civil law, standards of conduct, ethics, operational law, and international law.
As majors, judge advocates may serve as Staff Judge Advocates or Deputy Staff Judge Advocates and provide command legal advice. Judge Advocate Majors may also serve as Senior Trial Counsel, Senior Defense Counsel, or Regional Victims’ Legal Counsel at either a Legal Services Support Section (LSSS) or a Legal Services Support Team (LSST).
Majors and lieutenant colonels may perform duties as a labor, procurement, or environmental law specialist at various area counsel offices.
Lieutenant colonels may also serve as Staff Judge Advocates, Deputy Staff Judge Advocates, Regional Trial Counsel, Regional Defense Counsel, or Officers-in-Charge of an LSST. Colonels may serve as Staff Judge Advocates or Officers-in-Charge of an LSSS.
All field grade judge advocates may serve as military judges after being screened by a judicial screening board. Professional military education and continuing legal education opportunities exist for all judge advocates.
Judge advocates have the opportunity to pursue advanced study in disciplines relevant to the mission of the Marine Corps. An NMOS may be given to field-grade judge advocates who fulfill certain requirements. Judge advocates who obtain the necessary Master of Laws degree (LL.M.) as a captain will not receive the additional MOS until promoted to the rank of major.