The Mayer Law Blog

Shopping for a Military Lawyer? Part 2: Discharge Upgrade Lawyer

Posted November 14th, 2014 in Military Advocacy, Military Law

In one of the more obscure areas of military law, we have those who handle discharge upgrades. Few lawyers want to take these cases because they are largely technical, rather boring, and not as sexy and flashy as a court-martial. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I’ve come to enjoy helping with discharge upgrades.

Let me let you in on a few lessons I’ve learned after having done these for 5-or-so years.

1. Experience and understanding are critical. Part of these involve trying to convince 5 officers that you deserve a discharge upgrade. Part of these involve spotting very technical legal and regulatory issues. While they are somewhat similar to other areas of the law, they are largely unique and complex in their own way.

2. The process is absolutely crucial. The process is also unique. You must find a military lawyer who intimately understands the rules that govern these boards. One procedural misstep could mean disaster for you.

3. Experience in front of the board counts. Was I new at this at one point? Yes. I was. However, I’m extremely glad that I’m no longer new to the process or the boards, as I’ve learned many valuable lessons that now help to improve my clients’ chances at an upgrade. A good discharge upgrade lawyer has this experience.

4. A military lawyer who assists with discharge upgrades should understand the things that resonate with the board. Certain arguments are tired and boring to the board. They no longer listen to things like “my commander was all screwed up.” That broken record is not effective. A good military lawyer will understand the aspects of your case that are most likely to convince a member of the board that you deserve an upgrade.

5. A good military lawyer should know how much time it takes to put together a decent application for discharge upgrade. On average, this process takes between 8 and 16 hours, total. Why so long? First, there are more issues than you think. A military lawyer must search your records (personnel and medical) and spot issues. He will see things that you do not see. This requires time. Second, preparing a case for presentation to a board of O-5s and O-6s is not a simple process. If it is written, it must be carefully written. If it is in-person, it must be carefully prepared and rehearsed. More time is required than most realize. Good military lawyers know this. Of course, travel and hearing time can add to the overall estimate.

6. Discharge upgrade lawyers must be able to write well. This is often tedious, and it is why most lawyers do not appreciate or desire to assist with discharge upgrades. Most applications have an executive summary that ranges from 10-25 pages (the heart of the application). This does not include the attachments–military records, awards, etc. One of my applications exceeded 1000 pages. This will not scare a good discharge upgrade lawyer.

7. A discharge upgrade lawyer will understand the terms, which are unique to this process.

8. As with any military law issue, it is important to choose someone who focuses on military law in their law practice. Some lawyers handle courts-martial, civilian trials, divorces, wills, trusts, estates, bankruptcy, and other legal issues. If someone focuses on such a wide-range of legal areas, how well do you think they are going to competently understand a highly unique area of law such as military law? Choose someone who focuses solely on military law, not a generalist who understands a lot of things a little bit.

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