What’s it really like for a Duke Law student to serve with the military legal community? In their words… (Part I)

Lawfire® readers may recall that four Duke Law students were competitively-selected for intern/externships with the military legal community this past summer.  They worked with uniformed lawyers (judge advocates called “JAGs”) and civilian attorneys, along with paralegals and support personnel, to serve commanders and troops in the armed forces.

This post is is first of a two-part report.  Today’s essay is essentially co-authored by Madison Dunbar and Madison Cash, and I think you’ll find their remarks quite interesting.  

Ms. Dunbar

You may remember Madison from this post from last February where she explained her interest in the internship.  Here’s part part of what she said then:

From speaking with JAG attorneys and my own research, I believe working with the JAG Corps will combine what I know I want in a legal career with other exciting areas of law I hope to explore.  I am not from a military background and I am the first in my family to attend law school. For those reasons, I am doubly excited my first legal work experience will come with the Air Force JAG Corps this summer.”

So how did it work out?  Read about what she describes as an “exciting and educational” experience:

I spent my summer as an Air Force Legal Intern at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina. I helped to draft motions, researched vaccine mandates, and witnessed will signings. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the client interaction of will signings. 


Observation was also a highlight of my summer. I observed witness preparation sessions, discharge boards, and courts martials. It was great to see how the criminal and civil sides of the legal office work together to support one another. It was also very interesting to see the legal office fit into the larger ecosystem of a military installation. 


Finally, I got to tour an airlift squadron and a C-17 airplane. This was helpful to contextualize the larger mission of the Air Force. I’m glad I had this experience early in my legal career. I am grateful to all the wonderful members of Joint Base Charleston who made my summer exciting and educational. 

Ms. Cash

Madison (Maddie) Cash also shared with us her reasons for seeking a military-related internship in this post several months ago.  Here’s some of what what she said then:

I’m inspired by the JAG attorneys I have gotten the chance to speak with, working across the world to advise their commanders, provide legal services to service members, and litigate in court-martial proceedings.

I’m also drawn to service in the JAG Corps because of its collaborative culture, constant adventure, and many incredible opportunities to gain trial experience early in my legal career. I am so excited to explore a career in the JAG Corps this summer!” 

So what does she think now? As you can see from her remarks, below she found here experience “incredibly inspiring”: 

I spent my summer as a Naval Legal Intern at Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, which is located within Naval Station Norfolk. My unique placement within the Commander’s Staff Judge Advocate office allowed me to engage directly with high-level legal issues and personally brief two admirals, Rear Admiral Chip Rock and Rear Admiral Christopher Gray, about weekly cases, court-martial status, and administrative proceedings.

My internship gave me a firsthand glimpse of the cooperation needed between Commanding Officers and their legal teams in a military setting: both provide valuable legal and nonlegal insight on important issues.  I was also able to participate as a Reporter on a Board of Inquiry (BOI). A BOI is a military-specific employment panel made up of members, senior officers who evaluate allegations of a servicemember’s serious misconduct. 

The panels are not bound by federal rules of evidence or any legal procedure other than those laid out in the UCMJ, and so the outcomes are often informed by the prior character, performance, and attitude of the servicemember rather than whether they committed the particular action.

I was able to contribute to the Government’s case against a particular servicemember by drafting questions, preparing trial materials, and interacting directly with the members of the board during their decision making.

My work on the BOI was an invaluable experience that allowed me to think deeply about the role of rules of evidence and legal decorum in the courtroom.

Finally, my group of interns had the opportunity to tour an aircraft squadron, a destroyer, and a carrier ship. While JAGs serve different roles on each mission undertaken in these vastly different settings, legalmen, legal officers, and JAG attorneys both underway and on base communicate and collaborate regularly.

Given the minimal resources, technological limitations, and wartime conditions present in each assignment, the JAG Corps’ dedication to providing legal services and enforcing Navy regulations overseas, in the air, and on the ground is incredibly inspiring.

About the authors 

Madison Dunbar is a second year student at Duke University School of Law. Prior to law school she worked for three years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. At Duke, she is president of First Generation Professionals, co-director of Veterans Assistance Project, and a graduate assistant coach of Club Basketball. Outside of law school, she enjoys spending time with her dog, GíGí. 

Madison Cash is a 2L at Duke University School of Law. Prior to law school she attended Wheaton College, where she majored in Spanish and English Literature. At Duke, she is Vice-President of the National Security Society, a LARW Teaching Assistant, a LEAD Fellow, a member of the Moot Court Board, and a Staff Editor for the Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law and the Duke Law and Technology Review.

I am extremely proud of these young lawyers-to-be!  In the very near future I hope to have Part II of this series, so you can learn about the experience of our other interns/externs who decided to serve their country with the military this summer. Stay tuned! 


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