What is the difference between a discussion with a JAG
or Legal Assistance Attorney,
and a discussion with another officer?

What makes it different to talk to a JAG officer performing a Legal Assistance function is that he or she is also a member of a state bar association, and must adhere to its regulations and ethical rules. Each state bar association has its own rules, but it is a universal rule that an attorney is bound by the ethical requirements of his or her state bar association to maintain client confidences.

What does that mean to you?

It means that if you go to your Legal Assistance Office for an appointment with a JAG officer to discuss your personal financial situation, that attorney CANNOT repeat anything you said to ANYONE without your express permission.

The major exception to that would be if the attorney needed to discuss the situation with another attorney in the office, or a supervising attorney, in order to ask for guidance or advice about the best way to assist you. (There are other limited exceptions, such as when you verbalize a threat to cause serious physical harm or death to another person -- the attorney may have a legal requirement to report that conversation to the appropriate authorities in order to protect the intended victim. But those exceptions are rare, and we don't want to get confused by talking about them here.)

For these purposes, suffice it to say that if you go to see a JAG attorney in a Legal Assistance environment, that attorney cannot discuss with your command what the purpose of your visit was. Ordinarily, an attorney cannot even confirm that you are his or her client, without your permission. In a military setting, however, you may want the attorney to vouch that you were in an appointment with him/her and not UA or AWOL.

The restriction on reporting information up the chain of command is something of an anomaly in a military organization, but the Services have recognized the need to have licensed attorneys, in uniform, to serve various functions. In order to accomplish that purpose, the Services have had to recognize and agree that the attorneys are bound by the rules of the state bar to which they belong, or are admitted to practice.

In addition to reporting to the chain of command for the unit to which they are assigned, uniformed military attorneys (JAGs) have their own separate chain of command to which they report.

Each Service has its own Judge Advocate General, a flag or general officer who is responsible for all the uniformed attorneys in that branch of service and for the legal services they provide. If your command has its own Staff Judge Advocate assigned, that attorney also reports up the chain of command to the service's Judge Advocate General, in addition to reporting to the chain of command for the local unit.

This sometimes helps when an overbearing commanding officer attempts to assert the weight of his or her rank to influence the actions of a younger and more junior Judge Advocate. The JAG can request assistance up the JAG chain of command, and an officer of equal or greater rank can talk with the commanding officer to clarify the role of the JAG.

So, as a general rule, your conversations with a Legal Assistance Attorney on base are strictly confidential, and he or she cannot report them to your command without your permission. Obviously, there may be cases in which you want the Legal Assistance attorney to contact your command, and with your permission, he or she may do so. If you are confused about this, or have more questions, ask your local JAG for further explanation.

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