We asked some of the Sailors selected for the JAG Corps In-Service Procurement Program (IPP)
to share their top tips for success.
The JAG Corps IPP is open to active-duty enlisted personnel and Navy full-time support personnel, in any rating or military occupational specialty, in pay grades E-5 through E-7. Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 2nd Class (IDW) Melisa J. Wink
enlisted in the Navy in 2012 after graduating summa cum laude from William Penn University with a Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Law and History. Legalman 1st Class Sharon Soileau
enlisted in the Navy in 2007. Prior to enlisting in the Navy, she earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies from the University of Alaska in December 2006, and a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies from Roger Williams University in August 2013. Senior Chief Electronics Technician Nuclear Josh Kinning,
a native of Otsego, Mich., enlisted in the Navy in 2008. While in the Navy, he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nuclear Engineering Technology from Excelsior College.
Since I was very young, I aspired to be a lawyer and to serve my country. Upon graduating college, I decided to pursue the desire to serve my country and put my dream of becoming a lawyer aside. The JAG Corps IPP is a unique program that combines both subjects in which I am sincerely passionate about. It also enables me to realize both of my dreams; something I previously thought would not be possible.
I have always wanted to become an attorney and originally the Navy was going to be a stepping stone to obtain that goal. Shortly after I arrived at my first duty station I learned of the Legalman rating and applied for conversion as my interest was in the law. A few years later I became aware of the impending IPP. I loved the Navy and did not want to get out but wanted to pursue my dream of attending law school so it was the perfect opportunity. I quickly finished my Bachelors, signed up for the LSAT, and started to prepare for the application. I applied in the first year and was not selected. I was disappointed but pressed on. I applied for the evening/part time law school program in Hawaii and started my 1L year. I applied a second time in my third year with a much stronger package and the hopes that my passion would be recognized.
Throughout my time in the Navy, I have seen first-hand the impact that legal issues have on command readiness, and as a chief petty officer, I am passionate about helping Sailors. This program gives me the opportunity to use my skills and experiences acquired in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program to serve my shipmates in an area critical to mission success.
Do Your Homework and Start Early
Begin the application process early. Create a timeline of important deadlines and dates to stay organized and help with time management. The JAG Corps IPP application deadline, LSAT deadlines, and law school application deadlines occur at different times throughout the year, so it is important to stay organized to allow enough time to create quality applications and do well on the LSAT.
Do your research and start the process early. Applying for the LSAT/law school is quite a long process in itself. Studying for and taking the LSAT could be a six-month process depending on when you decided to take it and you will need that for your law school applications which you will do on the Law School Admission Council
website. Allow yourself time to fulfill the requirements necessary to apply. (i.e. recommendation/reference letters, etc.) I would highly recommend against trying to navigate through the law school application process and working on your IPP package at the same time. By getting your admissions letters first, you will have less stress and probably feel a little more at ease than if you were to submit a package with those letters pending. If you are worried about the seat deposit and whether or not you can attend, call the admission’s office and explain your situation, they will likely work with you or grant you an extension.
There are several great ways to learn about the JAG Corps, and I strongly recommend that prospective applicants learn as much as they can before applying to the program. Not only will your efforts demonstrate your seriousness about the program, but it will also help throughout the application process. Some things I did to learn about the JAG Corps included completing the Legalman non-resident training course, attending command NJPs, and visiting local JAG Corps offices. The application process is quite lengthy, and a competitive application necessitates substantial commitment, time, and energy.
Understand the Application Process
I began with the most time consuming portions (e.g., Officers Program Application, personal statement, resume, etc.), and then left the simpler portions (e.g., photograph, medical examinations, transcript request, etc.) to complete while I was waiting to receive my LSAT score and schedule a structured interview. I utilized the JAG Corps IPP check-list
to help keep me organized and ensure I had every element of the package completed.
I followed the instructions and went line by line until everything was checked off, I didn’t move on to the next item until each was complete. Some of the requirements require more time and effort than others. I and my very supportive chain of command, gave myself one afternoon a week to complete these tasks. You will have to make several appointments outside your office so make sure to communicate that with your chain of command so that you have the time to get those things done.
The process of creating a successful package is recursive. Applicants should plan on spending significant time creating their package, editing their package, and re-editing their package. Attention to detail is a fundamental skill for lawyers, and the best way to demonstrate this skill in your application is proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It is a simple fact that poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation will ruin even the best of essays.
With the “whole person” concept in mind, I developed a “strategy” for my package. I wanted to ensure that every aspect that I felt made me competitive was adequately demonstrated in my package. For example, my LCPO wrote a recommendation letter that highlighted my leadership ability and technical knowledge on a divisional level, whereas my CO wrote about the impact I had throughout the command. My advice would be to make sure you are strategic with your recommendations; you do not want every letter highlighting the same attributes.
When I became eligible for the JAG Corps IPP it had been over six years since I had taken a standardized test like the LSAT, so I knew I could not tackle the LSAT on my own. I signed-up for a LSAT prep course that met in the evenings four days a week for three hours each session. I studied and completed my prep course homework during my lunch breaks and over the weekends. In my opinion, the key to LSAT success is to take many practice exams in exam-like conditions. I recommend those interested in applying to take a full, timed practice LSAT from the Law School Admission Council
website before you complete any prep to get an idea where you currently rank and set realistic goals.
When I decided to take the LSAT, I didn’t have the money to take a prep course so I downloaded some practice tests from the Law School Admission Council
website and took them. In all honesty, my score was okay and I am sure that with more diligent preparation I could have performed much better. I had always done well on tests so I wasn’t too concerned, however, the LSAT is a very different test than you have ever taken. I would recommend taking a prep course and practicing under timed conditions.
I spent almost four months studying for the LSAT, using the PowerScore LSAT Bible series. In my opinion, the most important aspect of studying for the LSAT is simulating actual test conditions. Everything changes when you are three hours into a demanding exam, in an unfamiliar place, and you have five minutes to complete 10 questions.
Research Scholarships and Find the Right Law School
I made a list of the top 15 law schools I wanted to apply to and researched each school making a list of available scholarships. I suggest JAG Corps IPP applicants know exactly which schools they are permitted to attend under the program. This will help narrow down options. Many of the law school websites provide links and information about scholarships offered through the school and outside organizations. The Law School Admission Council
website also has a list of scholarships, including a LSAT fee waiver (if you qualify for this, many schools will also waive application fees).
The first time I applied, I picked schools that I thought would be easy to get into and were in areas that I liked. I got into all of them but didn’t get selected. The second time around, I looked at more prestigious schools and researched the schools that Legalman Paralegal Education Program students were often sent too. I also looked at the tuition rates and avoided “for profit” schools. Also, make sure that the schools are consistent with that specified in the instruction.
I began the law school application process very early because the JAG Corps IPP application deadline is before most schools send admission responses. Applications should be ready for submission as soon as the law schools begin accepting them. To save time, I used the same resume, personal statements, and letters of recommendation for each application. However, I was careful to tailor each statement to the specific school. Law school admissions prefer not to receive cookie-cutter applications.
I applied to the following law schools: Georgetown, George Mason, George Washington, Indiana, Florida, Utah, South Carolina, and William & Mary. I would suggest reaching out to prospective law schools and inquiring about special accommodations made for active-duty military members. I was able to get application fee waivers on most occasions. Additionally, some top law schools will provide extra scholarship money because of military service.
My package included a wide variety of activities I was involved in throughout my naval career, including diverse Navy collateral duties like Assistant Command Fitness Leader and Funeral Honor Support Detail, volunteer activities like community youth soccer coach, and civilian educational courses. I included letters of recommendations from personal, academic, and naval personnel from various backgrounds highlighting my unique characteristics. Overall, I crafted my package to highlight the traits that allow me to bring a distinct perspective to the JAG Corps.
I have always sought out additional responsibilities beyond the scope of my job because I have always wanted to make a difference. Teaching is one way to influence a great number of people, so I worked for and received the journeyman teaching certificate and have volunteered to teach various courses to Sailors not only in my command but the entire base. I also wanted to be able to counsel sailors regarding their career choices so I attended the career counseling course. Finally, because fitness is important, I attended the Command Fitness Leader certification course and have been leading PT and teaching spin and yoga classes since 2010. While I held many collateral duties, I did not let my job performance decline and made that my priority. I also did not involve myself in things unless I could make an impact. A mentor of mine once told me that you can be involved in many organizations and activities but unless you're making an impact, it means nothing. I have always had an innate desire to help people and that has been reflected throughout my career. There was never an opportunity that I passed up and I have always strived to be the best Sailor I could be. It was not something I did for the IPP but I believe that my sustained commitment to the Navy and community reflected well in my package.
As I discussed earlier, I used my interpretation of the “whole person” concept as a framework for my package. I used different parts of my package (EVALS, letters of recommendation, essays) to highlight the following areas: leadership, maturity, technical expertise, command impact, community service, academic potential, and motivation for the program. My recommendation is to find a way to differentiate yourself in as many areas as possible.
One Last Piece of Advice
Start early and set realistic goals. Don't be discouraged by minor setbacks. I experienced many moments where I doubted my ability to commit so much time to creating the JAG Corps IPP package. If you stay organized and know the application process inside and out, you will do well. I made a weekly list of items I wanted to achieve to take me one step closer to completing the package. Talk to JAGs and become familiar with the JAG Corps. Get your name out there and get on-the-job training from JAGs. Talk to law students and other officers commissioned through similar programs, like the Navy's Law Education Program
. Expect to make multiple drafts of your package, and review it over and over so that it best represents you. I suggest asking JAGs to review it and offer advice. Reach out to JAG Corps IPP selectees for additional advice and guidance. I would love to discuss my experiences and offer additional advice. Good luck!
Own your package and do not rely on your chain of command or anyone else to complete your package. By this I mean, when you route your package it should be 99% complete/error free, if you submit something haphazardly, your chain of command is not responsible for filling in the blanks. You are being evaluated on your writing skills, as you will be throughout your legal education. Ask yourself, when you are done with your package if a third-party neutral was reading it, would they believe that you had the ability to succeed in law school? To help with this, reach out to mentors and legal professionals to review your package and ask for constructive feedback. Having someone tell you it is perfect does not do you any favors. Finally, I would suggest that you prove to the board that you are deserving, so show that you want it!
During my short involvement with the JAG Corps, I have been absolutely amazed at how willing members of the JAG Corps are to assist in the application process. Capt. Paul Kiamos, an Assistant Judge Advocate General of the Navy, took time out of his busy schedule to meet with me in person! Simply put, the JAG Corps is more than willing to provide applicants with the tools, insight, and knowledge they need to be successful, all you have to do is ask!
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