From the Chair...
Standing Committee on Legal Assistance
One of the greatest benefits of involvement with the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) is that I, my fellow committee members, and our liaisons are all constantly reminded of the tremendous work done by military legal assistance attorneys both on bases here at home as well as locations around the world. Many Americans may assume the Judge Advocates practice only in the areas of military justice and operational law—an impression long reinforced in film, television and the media. But the average servicemember knows and appreciates that most military legal services performed by JAG officers and their civilian–lawyer counterparts fall under the legal assistance banner. These civil–law legal services address the same everyday consumer law, family law, landlord–tenant and other legal problems that entangle civilians, with the added complication that deployed servicemembers are entitled to extra legal protection when deployed thousands of miles from their home jurisdictions, and the understanding that unresolved legal issues imperil military morale and readiness. To the average servicemember, then, the most important military lawyer is the one who works to get him or her out of a jam with a creditor, a landlord, a former spouse or a civilian court, or who makes sure his or her estate is in order before deployment.
Each year the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel has the honor of selecting recipients of the LAMP Distinguished Service Awards. Those chosen for the Award are individuals and units judged to have set the bar for military legal assistance, by pushing themselves and their practices in extraordinary ways. Our award winners, both past and present, provide us with outstanding examples of the fine work done by these lawyers on behalf of our military families, which I would like to share in my column today.
First, it's important to understand that legal assistance lawyers deliver a very high volume of legal assistance under challenging conditions. In this day and age of budgetary cutbacks and limited resources, many of our attorneys find themselves faced with meeting a growing demand for legal services with a shrinking staff. One of our award winners assisted over 1,000 clients in a calendar year that saw her serving as the only legal assistance attorney in her office for three months during a reorganization. Another winner continues to function as the only legal assistance attorney in an eight–state region encompassing over 6,000 personnel. Yet another of our award winners provides much–needed tax law expertise to those personnel stationed in Germany, and clients come from hundreds of kilometers away to seek his thorough knowledge of the NATO Status of Forces Agreement and its German Supplementary Agreement as they apply to tax matters. In short, it is not uncommon that these lawyers will see from 500 to over 1,000 clients in any given year, and they must be prepared to provide legal services in a broad range of civil legal matters.
Not surprisingly, with limited resources, our military attorneys must be innovators in finding new, better, and more efficient means of delivering legal assistance. This includes the creation of programs to effectively meet the specific needs of any given office. For example, one award winner, when realizing that many of his base's personnel had immigration and naturalization needs, established a partnership with a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service office to deliver USCIS services on base. During tax season, one legal office created satellite tax preparation kiosks around base, including in the dorms, medical clinic, and dining facilities, to best insure that the base military personnel received the benefits to which they were entitled. The same office also innovated in the area of social media, creating a comprehensive client engagement system that combines a webpage, Facebook and mobile "apps" for use by its clientele. The system is updated at least weekly and integrates with the new MyMCW ("My Military Communities") smartphone application. Finally, one attorney stationed in Japan operated a distant satellite office for the benefit of those personnel whose duties would not allow them to travel the distance to the main office to receive legal assistance. That same lawyer, by recognizing the language barrier experienced by many foreign national clients recruited a Japanese national as a civilian volunteer to provide translation services, thus ensuring those clients were provided the same high–quality attorney consultation that other clients received.
The demands placed on our legal assistance attorneys go beyond service delivery and innovation. Our award winners routinely publish articles and informational materials for their clients, teach courses, and are tasked with the training of new attorneys and paralegals. They also devote time to liaising with state and local bar associations, where they provide essential expertise on the legal issues of military personnel. This expertise, in turn, results in bar association programming and policy that is better informed about the realities of the legal problems confronting our nation's military families.
I encourage you to take a look at the inspiring stories of our Distinguished Service Award winners. Whether you have experience as a military attorney, or whether it's an area with which you've had no exposure at all, I am certain you will agree that our nation's military legal assistance attorneys, both JAG and civilian, represent the finest ideals and aspirations of our profession.