Practice of Law in the Coast Guard

Annual Report to the American Bar Association 2022

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 Criminal Law/Military Justice

As an armed force, the Coast Guard is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Responsibility for military justice is vested in rear admirals who serve as the Judge Advocate General of the Coast Guard and the Chief Prosecutor of the Coast Guard.  The Office of the Chief Prosecutor is responsible for the prosecution of all courts-martial and for the disposition of major offenses specified in the UCMJ.  Judge advocates serve as defense counsel and prosecutors for courts-martial, special victim’s counsel, and military judges at the trial and appellate level.  Judge Advocates assigned as appellate counsel (both for the government and defense) brief and argue cases before the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and the Supreme Court of the United States.  Coast Guard attorneys serve as Staff Judge Advocates to Coast Guard commanders providing advice on military criminal matters.

Legal counsel and enforcement guidance in key mission areas, including: maritime homeland security, enforcement of laws and treaties, particularly drug laws, fisheries laws, customs laws, environmental laws, and immigration law, intelligence, search and rescue, icebreaker operations, intelligence law; national security and defense operations, marine environmental protection; port safety and security, including Captain of the Port functions and homeland security, maritime defense zone responsibilities, and other Coast Guard missions as well as in the following general areas: vessel inspection and commercial vessel safety; merchant vessel personnel, including review of appeals by merchant seamen of suspension and revocation orders entered by Administrative Law Judges; investigations of marine casualties and violations of law by merchant mariners; appeal adjudication for civil penalty cases; determines the navigable status of U. S. waters.
 International Activities
Coast Guard attorneys serve as advisors or representatives of the United States at most of the several bodies of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), headquartered in London, including the Assembly, the Facilitation Committee, the Marine Safety Committee, the Safety of Navigation subcommittee and the Radio-communications and Search and Rescue subcommittee and the Legal Committee.  The principal and alternate U.S. Representative to the IMO Legal Committee are Coast Guard attorneys.  One Coast Guard attorney is currently assigned as liaison to the Department of State, another is attached to the Department of Defense’s Institute for International Legal Studies.
 Civil Advocacy, Claims & Litigation
Actively manage an extensive claims program under several federal statutes.  These involve not only adjudicating claims made against the agency, but also collecting monies owed the government due to penalties assessed for violations of federal law, for damage to Coast Guard property, and for cleanup & recovery costs.  Coast Guard attorneys are actively involved in a wide variety of civil litigation, from simple tort defense to Constitutional challenges.  Two Judge Advocates are assigned to the Department of Justice where they provide valuable Coast Guard experience to DOJ attorneys.
 Procurement Law
Coast Guard attorneys in the Office of Procurement Law at Headquarters, at the Legal Service Command, and in some field legal offices, provide contract law advice to management, technical, and contracting officials at all levels of the Coast Guard.  This ranges from daily advice to field level contracting officers to advice on major construction, acquisition, and procurements.  Advice is provided from the earliest planning stages of procurement through contract negotiation and award as well as through contract administration, which may include action on claims and contract litigation.
Legal services are provided in support of Coast Guard compliance with federal, state and local environmental requirements.  Lawyers advise field commanders, program managers and Headquarters units, regarding federal, state and local requirements that may affect or constrain Coast Guard activities. They represent the Coast Guard, either directly or through the Department of Justice (DOJ), in environmental enforcement actions against the Coast Guard, environmental citizen suits, and challenges to Coast Guard activities brought under environmental statutes. 
 Internal Organizational Law
This practice area encompasses a wide range of legal subjects with perhaps the largest number of clients of any of our practice areas.  Coast Guard attorneys provide legal advice on issues including federal fiscal law, gift acceptance and standards of ethical conduct for government employees, management, military and civilian personnel law, civil rights, health care, privacy and the release of information. To some extent, Coast Guard attorneys do this work wherever they are.  Attorneys at the Office of General Law at Headquarters and at the Legal Service Command provide advice and represent the Coast Guard on matters involving the Merit Systems Protection Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and labor relations.  Legal counsel is provided on matters involving the acquisition, maintenance and disposition of real property including leases & licenses. The Office of Member Advocacy & Legal Assistance is involved in personnel law representation of Coast Guard members in physical disability cases.
 Legislative Support
Drafting, reviewing and coordinating the clearance of the legislative program for the Coast Guard, usually in the form of the annual Coast Guard authorization bill for future fiscal years. The office coordinates agency review of pending legislation, Congressional testimony, proposed executive orders, and other agencies’ reviews of pending legislation.  Draft departmental reviews letters and provide Coast Guard comments regarding draft statements of Administration policy on pending legislation.
 Legal Assistance
The Coast Guard, as do the other military services, provides personal legal services to eligible beneficiaries.  This program, provided in accordance with Title 10, United States Code, Section 1044, makes attorneys available to provide advice, counsel and in some cases representation on many civil legal matters including estate planning, financial issues, landlord/tenant & personal real property, domestic & family law, application of the Service member's Civil Relief Act and other Federal laws impacting military personnel in the civilian community, and taxes.

Guiding Principles

Core Competencies of Coast Guard Lawyers

Legal Knowledge.
 Master the law.

Ethics & Professional Responsibility. 
 Uphold the highest professional ethical standards of the legal

 Provide legal services and counsel in the right place, at the right

 Zealously and skillfully represent our clients.

Client Relationships.
 Partner with Coast Guard decision-makers at all levels,
 understanding their business and giving them capabilities
 needed to do their jobs.

 Develop skills and experiences needed to be leaders in the
 world’s best Coast Guard.

 Expertly use technology tools to deliver legal services to the
 Coast Guard.

Practice Areas

The Coast Guard Legal Program is a “full-service” legal support organization, providing legal advice and counsel for any and all requirements the service’s decision makers place on us. This is done within 10 general legal practice areas: Criminal Law/Military Justice, Operations, International Activities, Civil Advocacy, Environmental Law, Procurement Law, Internal Organizational Law, Regulations & Administrative Law, Legislative Support and Legal Assistance.