Air Force JAG here, imminently exiting active duty. I can't speak for the other services, but I doubt they're much different than we are in this area.
Anonymous User wrote:I have anecdotally heard that some JAs who chose to transition back to the civilian workforce had limited options, particularly as federal employment (e.g., DOJ, AUSA) is not sure thing and the generalist nature of being a JA did not match up with practicing at a private firm.
For those of us currently exiting, this is in no way true. My friends and I (6-8 years experience) have had offers from USAOs, DoJ, in-house positions at defense contractors and other companies, a host of federal agencies, AJs/ALJs, biglaw firms, and many other options. If you want to work for the federal government in DC, it feels like shooting fish in a barrel right now for those of us exiting.
If you are proactive in planning your JAG career and aren't a tool, you should be able to get the jobs that give you the experience a lot of these employers are looking for. Even if not, I have seen JAGs with the generalist background get great jobs coming off of active duty, and the generalist background is likely perfect for federal agencies' general counsel offices.
One issue is you have to time your exit from the JAG Corps. This creates a problem if you're trying to leave and the market has tanked. I have known JAGs to test the waters, not like their options, then stay in for another few years until the market was better. For me, I got offers from employers that likely wouldn't have even interviewed me when I graduated (2012).
But the skills we can build are very marketable. At least in the Air Force, there's a wide range of what you can do, so you can move your post-active duty career in a lot of different directions. The most important part is to be deliberate about it every step of the way and don't just let yourself fall into jobs you're not interested in.
Given the choice, would you rather be a JA over being an associate at a big firm?
I can bitch for days about the problems in the JAG Corps, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. From a job perspective, I feel like it opened a lot of doors that were not available to me when I was graduating. I don't think I would have gotten the same experience in many other environments. Outside of traditional legal job skills, the people I met and the experiences I had just wouldn't have happened in a lot of other careers.
Are there any major downsides to the JAG Corps that I am missing?
With the Air Force, just consider that you have to move every 2 years. This can be tough on kids, a working spouse, and/or trying to find a spouse.
Are JAs generally satisfied with their jobs?
I would say so. Several of us had some challenging experiences that have made us bitter and jaded, but, even then, I think if you know what you're doing, you can have enough control over your career to do things you enjoy and contribute where you think you'll be helpful.
Can I land on my feet in terms of finding government employment if I decide to transition back to civilian life?
Yes. I think this is the easiest exit option for us and often the path of least resistance. You will get enough experience in enough areas to make landing traditional GS positions with federal agencies pretty easy. State/local government positions should also be relatively easy to get. Certainly if the market is a bloodbath, it might be a lot more challenging, but you have the option of staying in another couple years until things are better while making pretty good money.
One other advantage to joining for at least the 4 years is getting into the Guard/Reserves. There are a lot of financial benefits to this, and you can often pick and choose your spots so you're possibly just doing the things in the Air Force you care about doing.