Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My First Job as a Lawyer

My first position after I became a lawyer was as a Judge Advocate with the Marine Corps. If you’ve seen the movie “A Few Good Men”, in my last year of service I had the job played by Kevin Bacon, and I had a case very similar to the one portrayed in the movie.[1]

I went to Officer Candidate School during the summer of 1975 and then on to law school that fall. Before I graduated from law school, during summer breaks I went on active duty and worked in the legal office at the 3rd Marine Air Wing Air Base at El Toro, California. Because I had not yet gone through The Basic School, I didn’t have any uniforms, and I wore a suit when I reported for duty the first time.

The Orders always say: “Report to the Commanding General” and, unaware there was another protocol for it, I found my way to the building with the sign out front that said: “Commanding General.” I walked down the hallway with a crisp determination until I saw a door that said: “Commanding General,” and I walked right in. I found working at his desk a ram rod straight guy with a grey crew cut flat top haircut, a bronze, weathered face featuring sparkling blue eyes and a chiseled chin, a stack of ribbons on his chest that went to his shoulder, and two gleaming stars on his shirt lapels. He seemed a bit startled when I burst in the door but, fearing nothing, I walked up to the front of his desk and in my best parade ground voice said, “Lieutenant Bond, reporting for duty, Sir!”

The General was actually a little amused by this apparition that had suddenly appeared in his office through a door that was never used, and after inquiring into exactly who the hell I was and what the hell I was doing here, he hollered for the First Sergeant to come take care of me. Outside, the First Sergeant took me aside and gently told me that next time I could just come through the front door to the front desk and check in with the Corporal; and it would be best if I got over to the supply building ASAP and got some uniforms, too, Sir!

After graduation, passing the bar exam and about 8 months of training at The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia and Naval Justice School at Newport, Rhode Island, I reported for duty at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) boot camp in San Diego, California. I was, as we learned to say at OCS, a high stepping, highly motivated, highly educated, hard charging soldier of the sea, and in this case I was burdened with the added disability of being a full fledged lawyer eager to get my first client out of some jam.

In those days, when a Marine was to be brought up on a minor offense that his Company Commander would deal with, the Marine had the right to consult counsel before the Commander could hold his “non judicial punishment” hearing. And it seems that the only soon to be Marines who were ever in that situation at MCRD were recruits who decided shortly after getting off the bus after flying all night from the middle of America, a good haircut and the first seriously loud yelling at, that they had made a real big mistake and would just as soon prefer to go back home. But they had signed a contract and the government had spent a little money on them so far, and it wasn’t as easy as raising your hand and saying, “Excuse me, Sir, I think I’ll go home now.”

I was always intrigued by the difference in training philosophy between officers and enlisted. From the minute we got off the bus at OCS, our drill instructors were in our faces challenging us to go home just as soon as we asked – they called it “drop on request” or DOR. It seemed like an effective way to challenge a young man to reach a little higher in life and not take the easy way out. After all, who wants to be a quitter? But for reasons I hope are well thought out, the enlisted recruits were never given an easy way out.

So these kids would create some disturbance or be disrespectful or try to get in trouble and they would be brought up on some charge under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). My father, who was a Marine Corps officer, too, and one time Executive Officer of the Marine Barracks at the U.S. Naval Brig at Yokusuka, Japan, told me that in his day they referred to the UCMJ as the Uniform Coddling of Military Juveniles. But, thanks to some enlightened thinkers, in my era they got a free lawyer before they were to be convicted and punished.

In the first few months of my first real job as a lawyer, I would come to work in the morning and find 6-10 freshly shorn young men lined up outside the door to my office waiting the see “their lawyer.” And I would bring them in one at time, sit them down, and try to listen – through torrents of tears – to their tales of woe. It seemed like every one of these big and strong guys and a few little and weak ones, but tough guys all, would just cry their eyes out, begging me to do something to help them get home. Instead of doing any real legal work, I was a camp counselor and psychologist who provided a safe place of refuge where, in as calm and unthreatening a voice as I could muster, I would try to reassure them that it wasn’t so bad, there was a reason why they wanted to join, and in a few months they would be glad they stuck it out. And more often than not it worked.

[1] In my case, a platoon drill instructor was convicted of battery at a General Court Martial. He had ordered two of his recruits to “straighten out” another recruit who was caught with chocolate cake from the mess hall in his foot locker, and the end result was they ruptured the kid’s spleen. Although a senior officer did not commit suicide as in the movie, the day before the trial began Marine Commandant General Barrow arrived at the depot and spoke to all officers and NCO's about recruit abuse. This was the jury pool and it made for a very interesting jury selection on the first day of trial. Every one on the panel said: “Yes, Sir, I was there and I recall the Commandant said something about disloyal, stupid, cowards and super-cowards and how he wanted none of those in his Marine Corps and no, Sir, it will have no impact on my decision here.”

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

Ah yes. The right way, the wrong way and the Navy (Marine) way!
Thank you, sir, for a superb blog, elegantly written and finely reasoned. Long have I wished for some way to form a notion of our judicial candidates, if we must elect them. You show the way. Thank you.