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DCL Program FAQs


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ's)

What is the Coast Guard and what does it do? How does this compare with the money I could make in a civilian firm?
Is the Coast Guard a military service? Will the Coast Guard pay off or defer my student loans?
What is a Judge Advocate? What is the length of my commitment?
Will I wear a uniform? Do I have to go through boot camp or Officer Candidate School (OCS)?
What will my rank be? Do I get any vacation time?
Will I carry a weapon? What kind of job security is there?  Will I ever be promoted?
Could I be required to go to war? When can I retire?
Where will I work? Will I be able to practice in various areas of the law?
Will I know my duty station before I join? Can I work in non-legal Coast Guard jobs?
Will I be required to serve overseas? Do Coast Guard Judge Advocates ever appear in court?
Will I be required to serve on a ship? Will I have a chance to further my legal education?
Do I have to live on base? Is there a chance to travel?
How much will I be paid? Can I practice law on my own on the side or do pro bono work?
To whom do I address my letters of recommendation and where should they be sent? Does CGJAG have internships?
Should I apply to the Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL) program? What is the application process like? What should I expect?
When will DCL selection Panel results be announced? What if I call a recruiting office, but I don’t get a response from a recruiter right away?

What is the Coast Guard and what does it do?

The United States Coast Guard is the oldest continuous seagoing service of the United States. Established in 1790 as the Revenue Cutter Service within the Department of the Treasury, the Coast Guard is now a part of the Department of Homeland Security and is the smallest of the Armed Forces. The Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing laws and treaties on the high seas, protecting life and property at sea, protecting the coastal and oceanic environment, maintaining the national system of aids to navigation, and supporting national security and defense.

Is the Coast Guard a military service?

Yes. By law, the Coast Guard is an Armed Force of the United States. Its roughly 40,000 regular and 8,000 reserve Coast Guard uniformed members comprise the smallest of the five military services and the only such service not a part of the Department of Defense. While part of the Department of Homeland security in peacetime, it becomes a part of the Navy in time of war.

What is a Judge Advocate?

A Judge Advocate is a Coast Guard officer who has training and is qualified in the practice of law. It is equivalent to a JAG in the other services. The Coast Guard does not have a separate JAG Corps for its Judge Advocates; they are all line officers.  Judge Advocates are either Direct Commission Lawyers (DCLs) or are Coast Guard officers who have gone to law school under the Coast Guard's postgraduate advanced education program, or on their own.  All Judge Advocates are required to be active members of a state bar.

Will I wear a uniform?

Yes, as an Armed Force all members of the Coast Guard wear a distinctive uniform.  A uniform allowance of approximately $300.00 and interest free loans are provided to defray this expense.

What will my rank be?

DCLs are commissioned as Lieutenants and by statute they will receive three years of constructive active service credit (constructive credit is for accessing new DCLs at the O-3 level only). Coast Guard Lieutenants (O-3) are equivalent to Navy Lieutenants and correspond to Captains in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Will I carry a weapon?

You will not be required to qualify with weapons initially. However, since the Coast Guard is an Armed Force depending upon your assignment, you could be required to bear arms. In such a situation, appropriate training will be provided.

Could I be required to go to war?

Yes. In fact, one of the Coast Guard’s major missions is supporting national defense operations. For example, the Coast Guard, including DCLs, played important roles in Operation DESERT STORM as well as in Haiti and in Bosnia.  A Coast Guard Judge Advocate was part of the ground forces deployed in Port au Prince, Haiti in 1995.  In addition we have Judge Advocates deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Where will I work?

Your first duty station assignment will be to a legal office in one of the Coast Guard’s District Offices (Boston, Miami, New Orleans, Cleveland, Seattle, Juneau, or Honolulu); Atlantic Area (Norfolk, VA) and Pacific Area (Alameda, CA); Legal Service Command & Detachment (Norfolk, VA or Alameda, CA); the Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT); or in Coast Guard Headquarters (Washington, DC). Subsequent legal assignments may be to one of these offices or to one of the smaller field legal offices located throughout the Coast Guard. Subsequent non-legal assignments may be throughout the Coast Guard.

Links to Coast Guard Districts:
The 13th Coast Guard District The 11th Coast Guard District The 8th Coast Guard District The 9th Coast Guard District The 1st Coast Guard District The 5th Coast Guard District The 7th Coast Guard District The 17th Coast Guard District The 14th Coast Guard District Click on a geographical region to locate your nearest CG District Website

Will I know my duty station before I join ?

In certain circumstances, DCLs know the location of their initial assignment prior to signing their active duty contract. But this cannot be guaranteed, as accession, assignment and training cycles differ depending on the time of the year.  All Coast Guard officers, including DCLs, must be available for "world-wide assignment." While Coast Guard assignment officers and the legal program always consider each judge advocate's personal and family needs, and many DCLs receive their first choice for assignment, the needs of the service are paramount. Acceptance of a Judge Advocate position in the U.S. Coast Guard means that you must be prepared to be stationed in any duty location where Coast Guard attorneys are assigned.

Will I be required to serve overseas?

No.  The Coast Guard has a very limited presence overseas and there are no overseas legal positions.  The chances of a Judge Advocate being stationed overseas are remote. 

Will I be required to serve on a ship?

No.  There are no legal billets on Coast Guard cutters.  However, Judge Advocates may request a non-legal assignment afloat.

Do I have to live on base?

Generally, no. Since most Coast Guard legal billets are located in major metropolitan areas, the Coast Guard usually does not have on-base housing available.

How much will I be paid?

Since the Coast Guard is one of the country's five armed forces, the pay and allowances are the same as for the other military services. Your exact pay would depend on whether you have dependents and where you are stationed. (See Pay Table below).  Benefits include free medical and dental care, 30 days paid annual vacation (not counting ten federal holidays), low cost $400,000 term life insurance, tuition assistance for off-duty education, post-graduate education opportunities, and the ability to contribute to tax-free retirement accounts under the federal Thrift Savings Plan.  Other benefits include: use of commissaries (grocery stores) and exchanges (retail department stores), space available travel on government aircraft, use of military recreational facilities around the world, and excellent retirement and Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.  (Figures based upon 2009 data)

Location

Base Pay Monthly (O3 - NO prior military service)

 

BAS & BAH Monthly without Dependants

Yearly Salary without Dependants

 

BAS & BAH Monthly with Dependants

Yearly Salary
  with Dependants

Alameda, CA

$3,540.30

 

$2833.0

$79,156.08

 

$3278.0

$84,496.08

Boston, MA

$3,540.30

 

$2,164.0

$71,128.08

 

$2283.0

$72,556.08

Cleveland, OH

$3,540.30

 

$1189.0

$59,428.08

 

$1435.0

$62,380.08

Washington, DC

$3,540.30

 

$2184.00

$71,368.08

 

$2362.0

$73,504.08

Honolulu, HI

$3,540.30

 

$2191.0

$71,452.08

 

$2627.0

$76,684.08

Juneau, AK

$3,540.30

 

$1945.0

$68,500.08

 

$2349.0

$73,348.08

Miami, FL

$3,540.30

 

$1913.0

$68,116.08

 

$2104.0

$70,408.08

New London, CT

$3,540.30

 

$1558.0

$63,856.08

 

$1955.0

$68,620.08

New Orleans, LA

$3,540.30

 

$1427.0

$62,284.08

 

$1770.0

$66,400.08

Norfolk, VA

$3,540.30

 

$1534.0

$63,568.08

 

$1755.0

$66,220.08

Seattle, WA

$3,540.30

 

$1643.0

$64,876.08

 

$2155.0

$71,020.08

 

These figures are based upon data for 2009. Members with prior military service will receive higher base pay.


Military Pay and Benefits (DFAS) Website

How does this compare with the money I could make in a civilian firm?

Although the pay may not seem overly generous, there are many hidden benefits. First, the allowances portion of your pay is tax free, which increases actual take-home dollars. Second, you are entitled to other benefits, such as free medical and dental care, 30 days paid annual vacation, the lower cost of shopping at exchanges (goods are significantly less than at retail stores, and there is no sales tax) and commissaries (you can save as much as 30% of what you would pay at a commercial grocery store), and potential retirement benefits at no cost to you. Thus, the total pay and benefits picture compares well with the yearly starting salaries offered in civilian law firms and other governmental agencies. 

Will the Coast Guard pay off or defer my student loans?

No.  The Coast Guard does not pay off or defer student loans.  In addition, the Higher Education Amendment Act of 1992 effectively eliminated the 3-year deferment provision of the Higher Education Act of 1965.   Those entering military service must now demonstrate economic hardship as defined by the Act.  However, there is current legislation seeking reinstatement of that deferment provision.  You should also check with your lenders or law school career service office to see if you qualify for any other deferments or loan assistance repayment programs. Additionally, loans obtained directly from law schools (except GSL/Stafford) and bar loans may be subject to a cap on the chargeable interest rate specified by the Service Member's Civil Relief Act.

What is the length of my commitment?

You will incur an eight-year service obligation four years of which must be served on active duty. 

There are different aspects of commitment to military service. 10 USC Section 651 states that each person who becomes a member of an armed force shall serve for eight years, and any part of that service that is not active duty shall be performed in a reserve component. This applies to all branches of the military. It means that if you get out of the military after the expiration of your initial active duty contract, your name will be placed on the rolls of the Inactive Ready Reserve, and you may be subject to recall in time of national emergency. No further action is required on your part.

However, you may request that you be allowed to join the Ready Reserve, both for drill pay and for retirement credit. If selected, you would be required to drill one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, and comply with other reserve program requirements.

Do I have to go through boot camp? No

Do I have to go through Officer Candidate School (OCS)?

No. Currently, DCLs attend a five week officer indoctrination course (DCO Course) at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, the first week of which is a 'Mini' basic training. The remaining 4 weeks are an introduction to the history, roles, and missions of the Coast Guard, and provides an overview of the service. The course is also designed to acquaint newly commissioned officers with the customs and traditions of the Coast Guard service. Students learn how to conduct themselves as officers, and receive extensive leadership training. Following the DCO Course, they participate in a five-week Operations Orientation Program at various operational commands including a two-week underway period aboard a Coast Guard cutter. They then must successfully complete a ten-week course at the Naval Justice School in Newport, RI.

Do I get any vacation time?

Yes.  In the military, vacation time is called "leave." Every member is entitled to 30 days of paid leave each year. This may be taken at your discretion, depending, of course, on the needs of the service. You also will receive all Federal Holidays, depending on your duty status.

What kind of job security is there? Will I ever be promoted?

You will enter the Coast Guard under a contract that binds both you and the Coast Guard. Provided you pass the bar examination, you will serve at least four years. Since the Coast Guard does not have a separate JAG Corps, you will compete for promotion against all other officers of your grade and time in service. If you are promoted to Lieutenant Commander you will then be eligible to seek "integration" into the regular Coast Guard. Once integrated, you may remain in service until retirement.

Promotion times and opportunity percentages vary with the needs of the service. The current total years of service for promotion and opportunities for selection percentages for all Coast Guard officers are shown below:

Promotion to: Years of Service Opportunity
LCDR 6-7 80%-84%
CDR 12-13 71%-75%
CAPT 17-18 62%-66%

Historically, Judge Advocates have been promoted at least as rapidly and in the same proportion as all other officers.

When can I retire?

An officer is eligible to retire after completing 20 years of creditable active service. Officers must be continuously promoted to be eligible for retirement. An officer twice not selected for promotion to the same grade will be discharged or retired, as appropriate. Unlike the DoD services, Coast Guard Lieutenant Commanders and Commanders will be retained on active duty until eligible for retirement, regardless of years of service.

Will I be able to practice in various areas of the law?

Yes. The usual practice in the Coast Guard legal program is to have all DCLs rotate within several different areas of the law during their first tour of duty. Exactly what type of cases you will be assigned will depend, of course, on where you are stationed and office needs.

Can I work in non-legal Coast Guard jobs ?

The Coast Guard, unlike most other services, does not have a JAG corps. DCLs are not required to seek non-legal assignments, but they may request such an assignment, subject to the needs of the Coast Guard. This serves both to increase the individual officer's overall knowledge of the roles and missions of the Coast Guard, and to give other Coast Guard personnel the opportunity to work with an attorney in a non-legal atmosphere. Some of the jobs that DCLs have been assigned to are prevention (marine safety) officers; marine investigators; personnel or administrative officers; and to operational duty both ashore and afloat. Assignments depend on the needs of the service and the DCL’s interests and abilities.

Do Coast Guard Judge Advocates ever appear in court?

Yes. Judge Advocates may appear both as prosecutors or defense counsel in courts-martial and before a variety of administrative hearings. Coast Guard Judge Advocates also assist the Department of Justice and U.S. attorneys in prosecuting and defending both criminal and civil cases. In some areas, Judge Advocates are designated Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute criminal cases in Federal Court.

Will I have a chance to further my legal education?

Yes. Job-related continuing legal education (CLE) is strongly encouraged and is sometimes paid for by the Coast Guard. Almost all of the courses and seminars you will attend as a Judge Advocate count for CLE credits for your individual state bar.

Is there a chance to travel?

Yes.  Since the Coast Guard is a nationwide service, job related travel can be fairly frequent.  This also depends on the specific duty assignment, and depends on the needs of the service.  As it is also a military service, members and families are eligible to use military transportation on a space-available basis at no cost or minimal cost.

Can I practice law on my own on the side or do pro bono work?

Yes, so long as it does not interfere with your duties, does not involve litigation or claims against the United States, and otherwise conforms with applicable ethical standards and the Coast Guard Standards of Conduct.

To whom do I address my letters of recommendation and where should they be sent?

Address letters of recommendation to: "President of the DCO Selection Board, 2300 Wilson Blvd, Suite 500, Arlington, VA 20598-7500". However, DO NOT mail letters to this address. All original letters should be delivered to the applicant's recruiter for inclusion in the application package. Letters can be hand delivered or mailed to the recruiter, but applicants are strongly encouraged to retain paper and electronic copies of all application documentation before relinquishing originals to recruiters.

Does CGJAG have internships?

Yes. CGJAG has internships at most legal offices, most of our internships are unpaid or for academic credit. Each legal office has a specific point of contact. A large number of the internship positions are at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC. The Office of Legal Policy and Program Development (CG-094) accepts intern applications on a continuous basis. Students interested in applying for a summer internship at a particular legal office must send cover letter, writing sample and resume (and perhaps additional information) to the point of contact for that legal office. To receive contact information for particular legal offices or if you just want more information on available positions, contact the Direct Commission Lawyer Program Manager. LT Kate Grossman Kate.J.Grossman@uscg.mil 

Should I apply to the Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL) program?

This is very good question and one we receive often.

As you deliberate on whether a position with the U.S. Coast Guard is right for you, there are a few things that you should take into consideration. First, the Coast Guard is a very selective service with a limited number of opportunities: between five to twelve positions per year. This means that we have to carefully consider the applicant as a “whole person” and not solely based on the strength of an academic record. A selection panel will consider important documents in the application, to include the interview board report, resume, letters of recommendation and personal statements of the applicant. Secondly, has the applicant considered what serving in the Coast Guard really means, i.e., does he/she know the missions, understand the organizational ethos, and is he/she willing to serve -- to include moving to a new location, if necessary?

While you should consider all of these things before starting an application, don’t be discouraged by our small number of selectees. We are looking for the right person and if you believe you are that person, you should definitely apply. Our ideal candidate lives by the Coast Guard core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty. If you can answer: YES I live by the Coast Guard core values; then, YES, please consider applying.

What is the application process like? What should I expect?

The Coast Guard has a four step process, that can take several weeks to several months to complete. Be sure to be proactive and persistent to ensure that you successfully complete the entire process:

1. CONTACT RECRUITER/PRESCREEN. The first step in your application process is contacting a Coast Guard Recruiter.  He/she will conduct a pre-screen to see if you are qualified to apply for the Direct Commission Lawyer Program.

2. PAPERWORK. After establishing a relationship with a recruiter, you should complete the necessary paperwork provided online: (http://www.gocoastguard.com/find-your-career/officer-opportunities/programs/program-forms-and-deadlines ).
Please understand that this is only the beginning and not the end of the process.

3. MEDICAL. After delivering completed paperwork to your Coast Guard recruiter, he/she will schedule a medical appointment.

4. INTERVIEW. After completing the medical screening, your recruiter will schedule an interview panel comprised of three officers at your nearest Coast Guard office.

REMEMBER:

         You cannot start the process a few weeks before the deadline and expect to accomplish all steps prior to the deadline.  While your application may go very smoothly, give yourself enough time in case your application takes longer than expected.

         When those four items are completed, the recruiter will forward your package to the Coast Guard Recruiting Command in Washington, DC, before the recruiter’s deadline (an internally imposed deadline by the recruiting command upon the recruiter).  Be informed, be persistent and stay in close contact with your recruiter. 

When will DCL selection Panel results be announced?

The panel results are announced approximately 4-6 weeks after the panel meets. The recruiting website lists deadlines and panel dates (see www.gocoastguard.com ). Letters are sent to the selectees and the alternates. Those not selected should also be notified by letter or by the recruiter. Contact the recruiter and ask for the selection message to be forwarded when it is released. These messages can also be found the Coast Guard Message System website under ALCGRECRUITING: http://www.uscg.mil/announcements/alcgrecruiting.asp 

What if I call a recruiting office, but I don’t get a response from a recruiter right away?

Don’t Give Up! Recruiters are very busy and cannot always return a call within a few hours or days; however, that does not mean that you, as the interested applicant, should get discouraged. If you do not get a response within a few days, be sure to use all means of communication available to you. Call, email and stop by the recruiting office, if possible. Educate yourself about the application process for DCL and stay engaged with your recruiter throughout the application process. Remember, you play a key role in completing a successful application to the Coast Guard Direct Commission Lawyer Program!

The Practice of Law in the Coast Guard is a good general reference for learning about CG Legal

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Last Modified 6/23/2014