An exciting new clinic with a focus on military legal practice debuted this spring at the law school. The clinic is the creation of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Hennigan, a Major in the Air Force reserve with 10 years of Justice Advocate General (JAG) experience. Hennigan, who is on the intern selection committee for her office’s summer program, was surprised at how many students expressed an interest in her JAG experience. “I realized that students in the Northeast in particular had no way of knowing what the military was about,” she said. “The idea behind the clinic is to expose students at BLS to a potential career in the military, and to explore the inner workings of the military legal process so that they can be informed citizens when it comes to the military issues being debated in our nation, including military courts, Guantanamo Bay, and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“My goal is for my students to be exposed to the realities of a military legal career, so that they can make informed decisions about pursuing a career in service. My hope is that participation in the clinic will give BLS students an advantage in the incredibly competitive JAG selection process, but even if the students don’t pursue careers in the military they will be more informed.”
To achieve her goals, Hennigan set up the Military Legal Practice clinic to include several components. First and foremost, each student is assigned to represent the government in an area relating to military legal practice. This semester, her students were assigned to the 305th Air Mobility Wing Legal Office at Joint Base McGuire- Dix-Lakehurst NJ (a prosecutor’s office), the Office of the Area Defense Counsel at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at the Fort Hamilton Army Base, and the Office of Regional Counsel Veterans Administration in Brooklyn. During their internships, the students are exposed to a wide variety of military legal topics including preparing for military courts-martial (working with either defense attorneys or prosecutors), assisting active duty, dependent, and retired military members with family law issues, defending the government in medical malpractice cases, and reviewing government contracts, to name a few.
Aside from the hands-on training, the clinic includes a weekly seminar where students receive formal lectures on federal and military civil and criminal practice. Hennigan also engages students in discussions of the role and ethics of being a government lawyer.
Finally, the clinic includes guest speakers from the Department of Defense (active duty and civilian), who share experiences relative to practice as a military attorney. Over the course of the clinic’s first semester, Hennigan has hosted an impressive group that includes Lt. Colonel Yvonne Bradley, an Air Force reservist with extensive experience in human rights law who was defense counsel to inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Lt. Commander Michael Harmon, a reserve Naval intelligence officer who discussed the role of the JAG in combat, Major Jeffrey Kwastel, an Air Force Reserve JAG who discussed his experience trying military courts-martial, and John Reh, Former Marine Captain, who shared his experience as a Marine Officer serving in the Middle East and here in the United States, as well as judges and experts in international law. Hennigan also shares her wealth of experience which includes a remote tour in the Republic of Korea, a deployment to the Middle East, and a tour as expert prosecutor in numerous high-profile courts-martial, including the successful prosecution of a an Air Force JAG Officer who conspired to commit the murder-for-hire of his wife.
The clinic has already been overrun with applications for its 8 spots and Hennigan hopes to expand enrollment in future years. “This is a very good example of underestimating interest in a topic,” she said. “The interest has been quite surprising.”
Hennigan herself never expected to join the military or become a JAG. “I wanted to be a prosecutor, but I thought, if a job fell out of the sky where I could travel the world, and learn to be a great prosecutor, that would be the best of all worlds. Very soon after that I met a recruiter for JAG and I realized I had found the best possible first job out of law school. Looking back, I loved every minute of it.”