Working as a Paralegal Specialist in the Army: a New Career Path

The following article is written by Elena Manley who shares the story of her life as military paralegal.

paralegals in the military

“Next month marks my nineteenth year in the service. For fourteen of those years I have served as a military paralegal. I have spent more time as a military paralegal than as a civilian paralegal.
At this point in my career, I can perform my military paralegal duties and responsibilities with confidence, ease, and comfort. I am able to draft wills and powers of attorney with speed and accuracy. I have given numerous briefings to military personnel regarding their rights and responsibilities. This is the career I have chosen and although it has been a part-time career for quite some time, it has remained a pivotal part of my life. Sometimes that has come at the expense of my civilian employment. I have been grateful for employers who kindly let me attend to my military duties when called to do so at times which were perhaps inconvenient to both of us.
Last week was an example of an inconvenient time. I stood before my fellow service members and began to give my usual briefing on wills, powers of attorney, veteran’s employment rights, etc., When it dawned on me. These particular service members were most definitely headed into harm’s way. They had already said goodbye to their loved ones. They had their bags packed and ready. They had sat patiently while speaker after speaker, most with accompanying power point presentations, informed them of the numerous details they must consider before deployment, during deployment, and after they return from deployment. Now it was time for my three minute legal briefing during which I would advise them to consider their estate should they lose their lives, their legal rights should an employer make them feel they might not have a job when they returned, and their right to legal representation should they find themselves accused of a crime.I speak about these somber topics with barely any time for real emphasis. The service members are later provided an opportunity to speak to me privately if they have legal questions. The service members need my assistance to give them direction or at least ease their minds regarding legal matters. Most often, I only needed to assess whether they need legal representation.
After nineteen years in the service, on that day I was more aware of my purpose than I ever had been. 
Sure, in my civilian job I had plenty of e-mails to respond to, reports to work on, and legal research to conduct. Any civilian paralegal can relate to those everyday tasks. However, on that particular day, my focus was on those who needed someone to listen, someone who had legal training, someone who understood.
One day I will fulfill my commitment to the service, hang up my uniform and retire.
I will no longer have to ask my employer for time off to assist a handful of deploying service members with their legal needs. And like most service retirees, I will not be able to accurately describe exactly why I served. Maybe that is for the best. Maybe explaining it too precisely would detract from that we keep locked away to ourselves. We don’t speak of it, but we know we share this same trait with others who have worn the uniform.
I look forward to seeing these who have deployed return home safely. I look forward to assisting them with their post-deployment legal issues. I look forward to performing my duty. This is what a military paralegal brings to the workforce. Civilian employers should expect nothing less. “

If some of you could be interested in serving their country as Paralegal Specialist, we have compiled an overview of the duties related to working as a paralegal for the U.S. Army.
—— Duties ——
  • Paralegal support to unit commanders and the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate,
  • Provide legal documents in courts-martial, non-judicial punishments and other military justice matters,
  • Prepare line of duty determinations, separation board proceedings and other administrative law matters,
  • Assistance in the family law arena such as powers of attorney, wills and separation decrees.
—— Requirements ——
If you want to serve as a Paralegal Specialist, you must first take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (a series of tests that helps you better understand your strengths and identify which Army jobs are best for you).
—— Training ——
Job training requires 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training, and 10 weeks of Advanced Individual Training with on-the-job instruction, to learn:
  • legal terminology and research techniques,
  • preparation of legal documents,
  • Army judicial process,
  • and how to interview witnesses.
—— Helpful Skills ——
  • Ability to supervise those in a command,
  • Provide technical guidance to subordinates,
  • Maintain law/administrative library,
  • Monitor and review actions for accuracy.
—— Award ——
The best Paralegal Specialists are eligible to receive the Sergeant Eric L. Coggins Award for Excellence.
Those in the ranks of specialist through staff sergeant who "demonstrate both exceptional Soldier and paralegal skills" are eligible for the award, according to guidelines.
Army Physical Fitness Test scores and superior character are among the other criteria.
—— Integrity ——
"You're a paralegal, but you're a Soldier first. I always try to set the example for others. I'm really not looking for any recognition. I'd be fine if they just gave me a pat on the back and said, 'Good job.'"
-- Staff Sgt. Raymond Richardson Jr. of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, 2012 Sergeant Eric L. Coggins Award for Excellence recipient.

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