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.