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A few Q&A's with TJAG -LTG Chipman

December 08, 2010 | First Lieutenant Brandon Mark

My law school student org recently sent some questions to JARO, and TJAG- LTG Chipman was kind enough to take the time to respond. I thought new Judge Advocates, ROTC Cadets, and Ed delay officers might like to check it out also so I attached it below. 

For those Cadets who aren't familiar with who TJAG is, I've included some info.


-1LT Mark

 LTG Dana Chipman is The Judge Advocate General of the US Army.

  United States Military Academy at West Point, BS - commissioning as an infantry officer in 1980 

  •  Stanford Law School, JD 1986. 
  •  Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School, LLM
  •  United States Army War College, Master of Science degree in Strategic Studies 

1. What would you consider to be the greatest challenge a new Judge Advocate would face professionally? 
Most of our new Judge Advocates come straight from law school or from the private sector. There are many experiences the military offers that do not exist elsewhere. It can be difficult for some to assimilate into a military culture. We care about physical fitness, appearance and fit of uniforms, and military bearing. We require an adherence to authority that some find stifling, and impose limitations even on off-duty conduct if it would adversely affect our reputation. We expect that one would be willing to serve in an austere environment for a year at a time. The work we do, though, is largely familiar. As a legal assistance attorney, for example, the type of legal work that a new Judge Advocate handles is not significantly different from general “small-town lawyer” work. The clientele has a very different feel, though, because they are service members and service members’ family members. We seek to help them with problems and, while challenging, that effort provides a great deal of reward as well.

2. What was the last book you read?
Here’s two: The Unforgiving Minute, by Craig Mullaney, and Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin.

3. During your military career, how has the US Army JAG Corps changed in your opinion?
We have become more closely integrated at the brigade level (a unit of 3,000-5,000 soldiers) providing real-time counsel to the commanders and staff officers with whom we serve as they plan and conduct various operations. Consequently, we have become less focused in our traditional mission-set, handling criminal matters that arise under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

4. Recruiters do an excellent job explaining the responsibilities and opportunities for the first few years as a JAG attorney, and thus provide a plethora of reasons why to apply and join JAG Corps. What led you to stay in the JAG Corps, as opposed to join?
I can’t imagine a better question. First, I was an indentured servant – because I went on the Funded Legal Education Program, I had 14 years of commissioned service by the time I could have left. At that point, I had paid back my service obligations for West Point and Stanford Law. At the 14 year mark, I was defending the Army in federal court. I had done circuit court oral arguments before the 8th and 9th Circuits, and a jury trial in Hawaii, and I had a good feel of what litigators do – and I didn’t want any more of it! I went to a position where I could do legal work as a member of Delta Force, and it was challenging, and rewarding, and fun. I spent a sabbatical year in school, had a mid-level management job, and returned to special operations legal work, where we got to hunt war criminals in Bosnia, and then launch our campaign against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. I spent another year on sabbatical, then 5 years in Tampa, FL, serving the two commanders responsible for our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I got to move to Charlottesville, VA, a jewel of a location, to spend 18 months as a quasi-Law School Dean at our JAG school on the U.Va. campus. Finally, I was promoted to run our firm.

At every turn, what kept me going was the prospect of something new, surrounded by the best people I could know, serving in support of those who selflessly answered the call to serve their Nation. I don’t bill anyone, and don’t collect accounts receivable, and don’t have a lavish lifestyle, but would not trade a single day of the experiences I have had over 30 years and counting.

5. What was your favorite course in law school, and why?
Income Tax, because the professor was brilliant, and engaging, and approached the course from a perspective that did not take the Internal Revenue Code as a given. But I could have also given you 5 other classes – take the professor, not the course; law school subjects are fungible, but great professors remain with you forever.

6. What was your most memorable duty station, and why?
Germany. Newly married, no kids, wife had a job (we had more disposable income than we have had since J), and we traveled and skied throughout Europe. Spent 33 months as a criminal prosecutor, and loved “crime” – how/why people do what they do is fascinating!

7. Did you have a mentor during your first few years as a Judge Advocate, and what was it about them you valued most? 
Yes, and he remains a mentor still. His constant commitment of time is what I valued – mentoring involves most of all that investment.

8. What is the best course or activity a law student can take advantage of to prepare for the JAG Corps?

Trial Advocacy, Moot Court and Clinical Externships are areas that provide great opportunities for law students to get practical experience while in an academically controlled environment.. A large portion of our practice involves working with clients on a daily basis and trying cases in Courts Martial. A strong presence and the ability to think on your feet -- recalling the relevant law or regulation on a particular issue -- are critical to a Judge Advocate’s success.

9. If you could go back in time, to when you were a Captain, what do you know now that you would like to tell yourself then?
First, I was right – The Judge Advocate General does not really know anything more than I did as a Captain. Second, invest in people and relationships – they underlie any success one may have, and their absence, at some point, will cause one’s downfall.


  • Comment removed by author request.
  • Kevin Ryan
    1/21/2013 7:09 PM
    one of the best "advice" posts I've read online for Army Jag. Thank you.
  • William Neal
    3/27/2013 5:53 PM
    As a legal specialist serving in Bad Kissingen I had the pleasure of working with CPT Chipman. I am glad to see that 25 years later the Army is still taking LTG Chipman's legal advice.

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