The Mayer Law Blog

Shopping for a Military Lawyer? Part 1: Courts-Martial

Posted November 10th, 2014 in Courts-Martial, Military Advocacy, Military Law

Judging from a cursory Google search, looking for a military lawyer can be an ominous task. Yet, you’re probably searching for a lawyer who will represent you at a time when you are the most vulnerable, desperate, and in need of someone competent to stand by your side. Here are a few things to help in your selection of the right military lawyer for your needs.

First, while this is clearly on my website, and I am, indeed, a military lawyer, I am not the right lawyer for everyone. That is impossible. Knowing this, you must understand that it is crucially important for you to find a military lawyer that best fits you. This does not mean that you should find a military lawyer who says what you want to hear. This means that you must find a lawyer who will tell you what you need to hear, in a way that you can understand.

I can’t tell you how often someone calls my office and tells me that they do not understand the legal process they are facing. When I am done with a consultation, they usually reply “Why didn’t my other lawyer tell me this?” My reply is always the same “They weren’t the right lawyer for you.” With the right lawyer, you should understand exactly what you are facing, the choices you’ve made, and the pros and cons of each.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about a few key areas of military law where a military lawyer should be shepherding you through a technically and tactically complex process.


These are tough, and you need an experienced military lawyer to stand next to you at every step of the way.

1. Geography does not matter. Pick the right military lawyer, not the one who happens to be closest to your military base. I can’t tell you how often someone has chosen a subpar attorney because they chose the closest one they could find–usually from a strip mall within 10 miles of the military base. With modern technology, a military lawyer in another state can be just as effective as one just a few steps from your front door. They’ll travel to you when it counts the most.

2. Experience does count. As a relatively new JAG Officer, I didn’t know much. I thought I knew a lot. I didn’t. Just because someone is relatively inexperienced does not mean they are a bad lawyer. However, it helps to have someone who understands the process and tactics from years of experience. Remember, even if you hire a civilian lawyer, you get to keep your uniformed counsel. That’s a huge benefit.

3. Military experience in a particular branch is not important. Someone who served in the Army can be just as effective with a Navy court-martial, and vice versa. It is called the UNIFORM Code of Military Justice for a reason. It applies the same to all services.

4. The military lawyer who tells you what you want to hear is probably not the right lawyer for you. One of the most important things to remember is that a good military lawyer should also see what the other side is doing. This means knowing where the prosecution’s case is strong, and where yours is weak (and every case has weak spots). If they say your case sucks in certain respects, it doesn’t mean they aren’t in your corner. It just means they are doing their job.

5. A good military lawyer should be able to tell you how many hours they plan to spend on your case. Lawyers value cases based on the number of hours they believe it will take, along with anticipated actual expenses. Even when you are quoted a flat fee, the lawyer arrives at that number by estimating the number of hours he believes it will take. A military lawyer should be willing to break it down for you, along with their hourly rate. In other words, you should not have to wonder why you are paying a large (or small) fee.

6. Familiarity with a particular judge can help. Relative to their civilian counterparts, military judges have a high turnover rate. However, like their civilian judge counterparts, they each have a different outlook and personality. Sometimes, this is of value tactically. So, familiarity with a judge can help. However, personal experience with a judge is not critical. A good military lawyer will learn about their judge by talking to others as part of case preparation. They should be able to explain this process to you, and their plan for giving you a solid, tactical shot at winning.

7. Ask about technology. Does the military lawyer leverage technology to their advantage? If so, how? At the same time, if they do use tech, how are they ensuring that data is safeguarded. Ask about this.

8. Process is 95% of the battle. Sure, facts are important. However, a military lawyer who doesn’t understand the process of a court-martial will not win, even with the best facts. Make sure they understand the process and key decision points within it.

9. Publicity is not your friend. Many military lawyers tout the fact that they have appeared in various media outlets like CNN, FoxNews, or others. Let me be clear about one thing. Media exposure helps a lawyer to market himself. It rarely actually helps the client. If a military lawyer brags about media attention he has received in the past, it may be an indication that they are more concerned about marketing their office rather than helping you. Beware.

10. A great military lawyer teaches you something every time you talk. You are also paying to be educated about the court-martial process. After all, many decisions in the process are yours alone to make. You need to know what you are doing. Your military lawyer is your professor.

Up next: Discharge Upgrade Lawyer Considerations

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