Hello Future JAG Applicants:
I wanted to post about my experience as a 1L in the AFJAG Summer Externship program this past summer (2017). This forum has been tremendously helpful in my decision to pursue JAG, but I did not see many posts about firsthand experiences in externship/internships so I thought I could add something.
A little about me: I have no experience with military, which was my primary reason for pursuing the internship. I go to a T3, but I'm in the top 10% of my class. I found the job posting on the AFJAG Recruiting Facebook page (a good resource for anyone looking for info on the application process), and I applied around December/January, accepted in February. I applied for both the unpaid externship as well as the paid internship which came out later. I was accepted for both positions, but because I accidentally disqualified myself on my USA Jobs online application for the paid internship, I was forced to take the unpaid position. This did not affect anything except that I was no longer able to get paid, and the JAG recruiter was very apologetic about it because I was not at fault. So the experience didn't start of on a great foot, needless to say, but I'm still very glad I did it regardless.
First, let me start off by saying my experience was incredibly rewarding and positive. If you are at all considering JAG as a career path, you should definitely at least apply for the summer programs. As a 1L, the AF might be your best opportunity for this, but I know both Army and AF have summer programs in 2L year. Especially if you have limited military experience, it's imperative for you to understand whether the lifestyle is right for you.
The Work: I assisted mainly in the General Law section at the base I was on, primarily because I had an interest in this area and because they were shorthanded. And because there were a lot attorneys coming and going during the time I was there, I was able to do a lot of hands-on work. For example, I drafted: wills; articles for AF-wide publication; legal reviews of investigations, etc. I was extremely pleased with both the quantity and kind of work I was provided, and I never felt like I was a burden on the office.
The People: Because I had no prior military experience, I had no idea what to expect. I had great conversation and working relationships with everyone I worked with. Between the attorneys and paralegals, everyone was willing to offer help and answer any questions I had, but more importantly to me, I found everyone was willing to share their experiences both with JAG and with the AF in general, which was my primary reason for pursuing the internship in the first place. I found it very easy to relate to everyone in the office, and it very much had the team-like atmosphere that I was hoping it would have.
Thoughts on JAG: Interestingly, I had good relationships with two of the attorneys in particular, and both advised me against applying for AFJAG. One was very unhappy with his experience compared to other government experiences he had had in law school, and the other advised me to look into Army. One interesting thing about the AF is that there are a lot less attorneys, which means, especially in General Law, that no one really specializes. So some attorney in Gen Law will have to handle anything that walks through the door, and each new problem you face will often be your first time dealing with it. I can see this being both a benefit and a negative, and I'm sure it really depends on the person. And it could differ greatly between bases. This is opposed to Army (from my understanding), where you might be in Legal Assistance for a year (drafting/executing Wills, POAs) and you'll get to build on that knowledge during that time until you're an expert. Then you'll move into another area.
Another thing about my experience was that I realized the downfalls of a huge bureaucracy. There were a ton of inefficiencies that just couldn't really be helped. For instance, it took a whole week just for them to get me a pass to get on base. The Wifi was in and out every single day, and there would be hours that no one could get any work done because of this. I would have problems logging into the computer every other day. These are those little things that add up that really make it "service" to your country. Beyond those things, as a JAG, your support staff will be paralegals who are sometimes only a year or two out of high school. They have some training, but they are often trying to learn their job as much as you are trying to learn yours. As a military attorney, you won't get the support that a regular civilian attorney would have, that's for sure. I don't think these things will necessarily determine my decision to apply for direct appointment, but they definitely are a factor.
Bottom Line: I would recommend applying for the AF JAG summer externship/internship if you are at all interested in pursuing JAG. It let me know the negatives and positives of the position, but it also gave me great insight into military life. And most importantly, I was able to meet people (and future references!) to give me firsthand knowledge of the kind of person that is successful in JAG.