Legal Officer

Job description

Legal Officers deliver legal services in the fields of operational law, international law, training, military personnel law, and military justice.

The primary responsibilities of a Legal Officer include:

  • Providing advice on international and domestic law to the commander of a deployed force
  • Providing general legal advice and services to the commanding officer of a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Base
  • Providing advice on operational legal issues at National Defence Headquarters
  • Representing clients at Court Martial and appearing before the Court Martial Appeal Court
  • Representing the interests of the CAF and the Department of National Defence (DND) as:
    • A member of a Canadian delegation negotiating international treaties
    • A member of the military liaison staff at an allied headquarters
    • Delivering training on military law and military justice

Transcript

LEGAL OFFICER IN THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES

I’m Lieutenant Navy Derek Schroeder from Ottawa, Ontario. I’m a Legal Officer serving as Deputy Judge Advocate at CFB Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I’m Captain Francesca Ferguson from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m a Legal Officer and I’m currently serving as Deputy Judge Advocate in Canadian Forces Base Borden, Ontario.

FERGUSON: Legal Officers work in courtroom and administrative settings with all three environments of the Forces. We’re legal advisors to the chain of command and experts in international and domestic law applicable to CF operations and military discipline.

SCHROEDER: When deployed overseas, Legal Officers take on responsibilities such as working with Canadian and allied forces, local officials and international organizations such as the United Nations. We’re both military officers and lawyers who are field-ready experts in the law of armed conflict and military justice.

It really is a unique legal practice. One day you could be deploying in support of a peacekeeping mission. On another you might be on Parliament Hill supporting the Minister of National Defence on a bill progressing through Parliament.

FERGUSON: Legal officers deal with complex legal issues early in our careers. I am a new Captain in the branch, and I get the opportunity to write legal opinions that go directly to the Chain of Command, who value my advice.

SCHROEDER: Many Legal Officers think of their international and domestic deployments as the highlight of their careers. Now that I’ve done my legal and my military training, I’m really looking forward to the challenge and the excitement of taking part in one of the Forces’ international operations.

FERGUSON: Legal Officers must already have been admitted to a provincial Bar before joining the Forces, but there’s no requirement for prior military experience of any kind.

SCHROEDER: After your enrolment, you’ll go through the same Basic Military Officer Qualification as every other officer in the Forces.

FERGUSON: Then, you’ll be under the umbrella of the Office of the JAG, the Judge Advocate General. During your first year, you’ll be employed as a legal officer, but you’ll also spend a significant part of your time on military legal education and professional development.

There’s quite a steep learning curve. The fields of law we practice are quite specialized and are not typically taught in law school. New lawyers must learn the basics of operational law, military justice and military administrative law. You’re also provided with ongoing learning opportunities, so you can continuously strengthen your skills as you move up the ranks.

SCHROEDER: As a Legal Officer, you never stop learning – military criminal law, maritime law, national security law. There’s always a new challenge and a new opportunity to grow.

FERGUSON: Most Legal Officers begin their career at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa where you’ll be working on a wide range of files with a team that’s similar to a medium-sized civilian law firm.

SCHROEDER: Other Legal Officers are posted to Forces bases in Canada or in places like Germany, Belgium or the United States.

FERGUSON: As a base legal advisor, I face new challenges every day. The units come to me with questions that need to be resolved, and it is my job to determine what the legal issues are, and how to respond effectively. Whether it’s related to discipline or questions of an administrative nature, my advice can have a serious impact on a member’s career.

SCHROEDER: I became a lawyer because I wanted to serve my community - I wanted to help people. And there’s no question about it. As a Legal Officer, I provide advice and influence decisions that can have a very significant impact on people’s lives.

FERGUSON: I get to say that it’s part of my job to go into a foreign country, often into a conflict zone, to address international legal issues. And I have to admit - that’s pretty exciting.

SCHROEDER: If you have the ability and the desire to do something different, to serve Canada, to do something both deeply challenging and rewarding, then becoming a Legal Officer in the Forces may just be the right move for you.

Overview

Working environment

Legal Officers are members of the Legal Branch of the CAF. This branch is commanded by the Judge Advocate General (JAG) that acts as legal adviser to the Governor General, the Minister of National Defence, the DND and the CAF in matters relating to military law and administers military justice in the CAF.

The Office of the JAG provides the military justice system with military judges, prosecution and defence counsel. A Legal Officer may also work at the Office of the DND/CAF Legal Adviser, working in such areas as legislative drafting, pensions, claims and administrative law. A Legal Officer could also be appointed to the military bench, to serve in the independent Office of the Chief Military Judge.

Pay and career development

The starting salary for a fully trained Legal Officer is $77,000 per year; however, depending on previous experience and training the starting salary may be higher. Regular promotions through the junior officer ranks take place based on the completion of required training and on the length of service as an officer.

During the first appointment, a Legal Officer will be expected to complete Legal Officer Basic Training and Legal Officer Intermediate Training. Legal Officers who demonstrate the required ability, dedication and potential are selected for opportunities for career progression, promotion and advanced training.

Related civilian occupations

  • Lawyer
  • Judge

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Training

Basic military officer qualification

After enrolment, you start basic officer training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, for 15 weeks. Topics covered include general military knowledge, the principles of leadership, regulations and customs of the CAF, basic weapons handling, and first aid. Opportunities will also be provided to apply such newly acquired military skills in training exercises involving force protection, field training, navigation and leadership. A rigorous physical fitness program is also a vital part of basic training. Basic officer training is provided in English or French and successful completion is a prerequisite for further training.

Following basic officer training, official second language training may be offered to you. Training could take from two to nine months to complete depending on your ability in your second language.

Professional training

During the first posting, Legal Officers are expected to complete all Legal Officer basic occupational training which will allow you to work in the varied areas of employment within the Office of the JAG.

Specialty training

Legal Officers may be offered the opportunity to develop specialized skills through formal courses and on-the-job training, including graduate degrees.

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Entry plans

Direct entry

All Legal Officers must be admitted to the Bar of a Canadian province or territory, and be a member in good standing of a provincial or territorial law society.

If you have graduated within the last two years, you must have practice experience within the last two years. This experience may include clinic work or articling experience under the supervision of a licensed lawyer in Canadian Criminal Law, International Law, Administrative Law, Labour and Employment Law or Human Rights Law.

If it has been more than two years since you graduated from Law School, you must have practised law on a full-time basis in Canada since graduation. If you have not worked as a lawyer since law school and you graduated more than two years ago, you may have your legal experience evaluated by the Office of the JAG to determine suitability. This will be done after you have applied to the CAF.

Basic training and military officer qualification training are required before being assigned.

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Part-time option

This occupation is available part-time within the following environments: Navy, Army, Air Force

Serve with the Reserve Force

This position is available for part-time employment with the Primary Reserve at certain locations across Canada. Reserve Force members usually serve part time with a military unit in their community, and may serve while going to school or working at a civilian job. They are paid during their training. They are not posted or required to do a military move. However, they can volunteer to move to another base. They may also volunteer for deployment on a military mission within or outside Canada.

Part-time employment

Legal Officers may serve with the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army or the Royal Canadian Air Force as members of the Legal branch of the CAF. They are employed to deliver legal services in the fields of operational law, international law, military personnel law, military administrative law and military justice. Those employed on a part-time or casual full-time basis usually serve at military bases, wings, home ports and units at locations within Canada.

Reserve Force training

Reserve Force members are trained to the same level as their Regular Force counterparts. They usually begin training with the Office of the JAG to ensure that they meet the required basic professional military standards. Following basic officer training, the home unit will arrange for specialized skills training. Applicants with a university degree in law (LL.L, LL.B. or J.D.) may be placed directly into the required on-the-job training program following basic training.

Working environment

Reserve Force members usually serve part-time with their home unit for scheduled evenings and weekends, although they may also serve in full-time positions at some units for fixed terms, depending on the type of work that they do. They are paid 85 percent of Regular Force rates of pay, receive a reasonable benefits package and may qualify to contribute to a pension plan.

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