In their own words: Future JAGs studying at Duke Law

Duke Law is increasingly becoming the destination school for those interested in serving as a military lawyer (called a “judge advocate” or JAG). As I’ve noted before, the legal practice of JAGs is quite diverse not only in terms of subject matter, but also in its worldwide dimension. And it is a real way to altruistically serve others, something many young lawyers-to-be find very attractive these days.

That said, becoming a JAG it isn’t an easy goal. Only about ten percent of lawyer-applicants are able to enter the military as JAGs, but the most determined make it. Allow me to introduce you to several of Duke Law students aiming to be among the select.

Army ROTC Cadets and Duke Law students Danielle French and Christina Clemens

2L Christina Clemens is pursuing her commission through the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program here at Duke while simultaneously attending the Law School.  In her own words, here’s why she’s doing it: 

“Leadership. Tradition. Excellence.” These are the words the Army ROTC Cadets recite as we snap to attention at the end of each training session. These words are part of the reason I joined the program, but they do not begin to encompass the lessons and benefits of being a Cadet.  

My name is Christina Clemens and I joined ROTC in Fall 2017, at the beginning of my 1L year at Duke Law. Public service has always been important to me: My parents are retired federal agents, my husband is an Army officer, and I seek to serve my nation as well.  

My plan is to commission as a JAG officer when I graduate from law school. Through ROTC, I have formed invaluable friendships, learned discipline, gained confidence, and improved my physical fitness. The program exposes me to new skillsets and people, allowing me a broader perspective on legal problems. Studying at Duke Law and training with ROTC complement each other, and I look forward to using my skills to serve my country and the legal profession.”  

1L Danielle French is also in the Army ROTC program as a Duke Law student. Here’s why she wants to serve: 

“I am a 1L student at Duke University School of Law and a Cadet in the Army ROTC Program. I have always wanted to practice law, but with the desire to apply this passion to public service. I have also always sought purpose, drive and direction towards a greater cause in my life.

I married into a family with five generations of military service, and the pride that my family shows in our country is inspiring. The United States and its troops are that greater cause worth fighting for.

In the Army ROTC program at Duke, I have already begun my journey by learning the history, traditions and customs of the U.S. military. I have made great friends and made improvements to myself as an individual. In the Army, I will be able to practice law under the largest and furthest-reaching organization in the world.

I want to make sure justice is done even in the most difficult circumstances of the war that we face. I put on my uniform every day with great pride and know that my contributions will be a part of the greater mission of the United States. I hope to serve my country overseas in an operational law capacity, and further apply myself as a medical law consultant at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, in order to assist those who have given everything to serve.”

Duke Law student Capt Lance Beissner with his brother, Kyle

Captain Lance Beissner is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and is attending law school through a special program managed by the Air Force Institute of Technology. Here’s why he wants to be a JAG, and what he likes about Duke Law.

“I’m becoming a JAG because it lets my practice of law fit into a larger goal of public service while providing me with challenging and unusual experiences. As a future adviser and litigator, I’m excited to help the Air Force carry out its mission, and to shape military justice and culture.

I’m very glad I chose Duke to help prepare me for that role. Of course Duke has a number of courses and experiences that develop the practical skills and knowledge necessary to being a JAG, but what I’ve found most valuable are the people.

The diversity of views and the level of intelligence and engagement displayed by both the faculty and the students forced me to grapple with the law in depth. They haven’t just taught me the law, but how to develop both my understanding it in a broad context and the tools necessary to address the challenges I will certainly face.”

Being a JAG isn’t for everybody, but I believe everyone needs to find a way to give back to their country. There are, incidentally, opportunities for civilian lawyers interested in national security to serve the armed forces and elsewhere in government.

Of course, as we like to say on Lawfire, gather the facts, assess the arguments, and decide for yourself!


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