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When the military needs to handle internal legal matters, it turns to a a group of specially trained lawyers, called the Judge Advocate General's Corps. Each service branch has its own attorneys, who cover such practice areas as environmental law, criminal matters and international law. The general base pay for these positions is similar among the various branches. When compared to the average salaries of private practice attorneys, JAG officer salaries generally fall below the average. Yet as members of the military, members receive impressive benefit packages that should not be ignored.
Rank and Pay
Marine JAG members have the lowest starting salary. They are commissioned as 2nd lieutenants, with an annual salary in the high 30s. This salary increases to the mid-40s after one year of service, when they are promoted to 1st lieutenants. The highest starting salary is earned by Army JAG officers, with a yearly salary of $44,000 per year at the rank of captain. Most Army advocates stay at the level of captain through out their careers. The salary for this rank caps at $72,000 per year after 14 years of service. All other branches typically start at about $40,000 per year and in all branches, rank and salaries increase with years of continued service.
When JAG officers choose to live in private housing instead of in military housing, they are given housing subsidies to supplement their base pay and assist with their daily needs. These allowances are tax free and, when combined with the base pay, can raise the officer's take-home pay by $20,000 per year.
JAG officers are entitled to a long list of benefits. Free health and dental insurance, life insurance, and excellent retirement packages are all made available to JAG attorneys. In addition, numerous military related perks, such as commissary access and reduced price travel also contribute to the value of a military lawyer's salary. These officers may also be eligible for tuition reimbursement, further increasing the value of their annual salaries.
Private Sector Comparison
In 2011, the average salary of a private practice attorney was $113,310, ranging from $54,000 at the low end to $187,000 at the high end. By comparison, the average salary of a JAG officer is $65,000 per year. While military lawyers appear to earn substantially less than their civilian counterparts, the totality of the military salary, allowances and benefit package still make this a viable choice of careers.
Erika Winston is a Washington, D.C.-based writer, with more than 15 years of writing experience. Her articles have appeared in such magazines as Imara, Corporate Colors E-zine and Enterprise Virginia. She holds a Juris Doctor degree from Regent University and a Masters in public policy from New England College.