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Professional Development

The Army Judge Advocate General’s Funded Legal Education Program

Ebony Nicole Thomas

The Army Judge Advocate General’s Funded Legal Education Program
z1b via iStock

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Since adolescence, I dreamed of becoming an attorney. However, several years passed, and it was not until my 2011 deployment to Iraq that I revisited this dream. While in Iraq, I spoke with an Army lawyer—a Judge Advocate (JA)—and expressed my interest in becoming an attorney. The JA told me about the Army’s Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) and about his role as a JA.

Funded Legal Education Program

The Army’s FLEP was created in 1974 and sends up to 25 active-duty officers—and recently included enlisted members—to law school while being paid their Army salaries the entire time. FLEP students are also paid a book allowance and train at Army legal offices in the summers as interns. The FLEP program is one of the most competitive programs the Army has to offer.

Title 10, United States Code, Section 2004, establishes the eligibility cap for both officers and enlisted soldiers. Officers must have more than two years but less than six years of active-duty service when starting law school. Enlisted soldiers must have not less than four years, nor more than eight years, of active duty when law school starts.

The FLEP application process is holistic. The FLEP selection board considers school transcripts, LSAT scores, a mandatory Staff Judge Advocate (senior Army lawyer for a post or command) interview, and the applicant’s statement of motivation to attend law school. If accepted into the program, the active-duty service obligation is six years: two years for each year of law school.

My Experience as a FLEP Officer

Once I learned more about FLEP, I was sold on applying, and two years later was accepted into the program, earning my JD in 2017. My first assignment as a JA was to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During the three-year assignment, I served as an administrative law attorney, as a legal assistance attorney, and as an Army prosecutor, all while periodically jumping out of perfectly good aircraft. My time at Fort Bragg was extremely rewarding because it was always something new and exciting and allowed me to combine my passion for law and service.

As an Army prosecutor, I saw first-hand the importance of good order and discipline as I sought justice on behalf of my command and victims. As a prosecutor, I was successful with most of my cases, but did experience a few losses. Throughout my time as a prosecutor, I had a great senior Army prosecutor, Major Michael Levin, who helped coach me through difficult and complicated cases. Also, I was fortunate to work across the aisle with talented defense attorneys, such as Captain Aaron Brown, who made litigating in this environment less stressful. This role tested my

organizational skills and strengthened my mental fortitude. But most importantly, it taught me the ebbs and flows of the military criminal justice system and how unique our system is compared to the US criminal justice system.

As a legal assistance attorney, I served a broader populous—offering services to veterans and servicemembers alike. In this role, I drafted wills, formulated rebuttal memorandums, and advised clients facing adverse administrative action. As a legal assistance attorney, not only did my listening skills improve, as my clients divulged some highly personal and sensitive matters but my level of compassion did as well. Being a legal assistance attorney gave me firsthand experience in advocating for the interest of individual soldiers and family members: sometimes against landlords or debt collectors and other times against the Army itself. My counsel and service were impactful for my clients, who often achieved the result they initially sought.

My follow-on assignment was at Aberdeen Proving Ground Reservation in Maryland, where I served as a Military Justice Advisor (MJA) and Special Assistant United States Attorney (SAUSA). During this assignment, I worked closely with the Department of Justice, prosecuting matters in federal court. In this role, rather than wearing my Army Service Uniform, I wore civilian business casual attire and communicated with the accused and defense counsel directly on substantive issues. The role of the SAUSA for JAs primarily involved misdemeanors and traffic violations occurring in areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction. Since my time as an MJA and SASUSA, I have earned my LLM at the Army JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia, and am now working in the National Capital Region in a position helping drive Army policy.

The Army JAG Corps has provided me with a multitude of service opportunities. I am profoundly grateful for the FLEP and hope to be able to redeem the investment it and the Army have made in me.

If you’re a licensed attorney looking for a new adventure, consider reaching out to the Army Judge Advocate Recruiting Office (JARO) for more details. You will be happy you did.