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ABA Opinion-Editorials


By Robert E. Hirshon
President, American Bar Association

"I find it scarcely possible to get on without some person in the situation of a judge advocate."
Most Americans would be surprised to learn that the Duke of Wellington said those words in 1815. Today's military leaders would not be surprised, however. They understand what General Colin Powell said after the Gulf War: "Lawyers were indispensable to the decision-making process."
For obvious reasons, Americans are today more interested in the military and military legal practice. Anti-terrorist operations around the world and increased security at home have made the military more evident and appreciated. Yet, lawyers in the active and reserve forces and National Guard have served with little notice and even less thanks. As this nation struggles to find the appropriate balance between the protection of lives and the preservation of liberties, the voices of the lawyers within the military are more crucial than ever. Military Appreciation Month and Memorial Day provide appropriate occasions to acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions of military lawyers of every service, who have long been a part of the nation's armed forces.

Within weeks of accepting command of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington saw the need for a uniformed lawyer - a judge advocate - to advise him and his staff on military law. Many luminaries of the law have since served as judge advocates, including Capt. John Marshall at Valley Forge and Majs. John Wigmore and Felix Frankfurter in the First World War. More recently, Maj. Gen. Bill Suter left active Army service to become clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States. Thousands of other judge advocates have undertaken second careers in industry, commerce, government, and private practice. They continue to serve their country as leaders in their communities and in the legal profession.

Modern-day military legal practice demands expertise unimagined in the past, including knowledge of admiralty, contract, criminal, personnel, operational, and environmental law. Military lawyers also provide expert legal support to individual service members and their families in such areas of the law as estate planning and family law. The American Bar Association, in a program called Operation Enduring LAMP (Legal Assistance for Military Personnel), has organized thousands of civilian lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal assistance to mobilized reservists and their families.

We are proud of our long, supportive, and mutually-beneficial relationship with the armed forces. We are even prouder of those who within our profession have chosen to serve in the military. Military lawyers enrich our ranks and serve in important leadership positions.
These are critical times, and the ABA is privilaged to stand in line with, and salute, our military lawyers. On behalf of the more than 400,000 members of the American Bar Association, thank you, judge advocates, for your service to the law and to our nation.