News | June 16, 2015

Supporting RLSO Japan’s Legal Assistance Mission With Innovative Remote Services

By Lt. Matthew Simon Bartholomaus, Region Legal Service Office Japan

When I approached the end of my obligated service on active duty, I knew I wanted to stay reserves.  The problem was the reason why I was leaving active duty in the first place.  My wife is a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department.  When I left active duty in Washington, DC, I was joining her where she was serving: Beijing, China.

Needless to say, the logistics of working a Reserve career 8,000 miles away from CONUS was mind-boggling, initially.  Inactive Duty Training Travel  (IDTT) and Active Duty Training (ADT) orders were good and all, but not ideal, as that could take me away from my civilian work for weeks at a time. After discussing the problem with Lt. Cmdr. Brian Haagensen, Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Japan, we decided to try something that was not a new idea at all, just a new application of a widespread CONUS concept. 

Similar to the once-weekly reservist legal assistance support I remember from my first tour in Groton, Connecticut, I would provide support from my home in China.  I blocked Tuesday and Thursday mornings for four hour periods, coinciding with Yokosuka’s traditionally busy walk-in hours.  I used this time to assist RLSO Japan with their heavy load of clients, and in any lag time catch up on GMT, continuing legal assistance clients from my annual training, active duty, and IDTT periods and other duties to my reserve unit.

That heavy load of clients can be extremely intense, as during a recent IDTT period in Yokosuka I saw 10 clients over the course of three hours.  Compounding the difficulties of heightened client load, RLSO Japan’s area of responsibility includes bases in Atsugi, Sasebo and Okinawa, not to mention other overseas locations to include Guam and Singapore.  RLSO Japan provides services the Navy’s largest area of responsibility, encompassing the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and adjacent countries.  Add to this operational requirements routinely taking active duty judge advocates out of the fold, and you create a need for flexible, competent legal support waiting in the wings.

The practical process of execution was simple: Our active-duty front office team in Yokosuka, headed by the incomparable Legalman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Rahasia Hicks and Legalman 2nd Class (SW) Erin Transue, would conduct client intake.  With a pre-arranged number in hand and using Skype at less than $.01/minute, I would then call the client and conduct a normal, telephonic legal assistance appointment.  After the call was completed, I logged a record of the consultation using CMTIS/JES. Tuesday and Thursday mornings are not the easiest days to take off from work for most reservists, but I took advantage of the flexible scheduling and work assignments provided by Embassy Beijing.  With that flexibility, the timing of this support worked extraordinarily well, as China Standard Time is only one hour behind Japan Time (UTC + 9).  The advantages of Japan’s time zone also extend to CONUS.  Since Eastern Standard Time is 14 hours behind Japan, a 0800 walk-in client in Japan can be heard clear over Skype or DSN at 1800 in DC.  This means there is nothing stopping an east coast-based Reservist from assisting clients in Japan at a reasonable hour.  I plan on putting this to the test, as I am shortly moving to DC for my civilian career. To date, we have only just started the system.  

As of mid-February, six clients in the area of responsibility have been seen as described above.  One client seen for a family law issue said unprompted, “I prefer doing this over the phone.  It’s a lot easier to get this stuff off my chest and talk about it over the phone than in person.  You should keep doing this!” This type of support in the legal assistance context does have limits.  Clients might not have access to scanners and the like, so discussion of their rights under a lease might be challenging without some forethought.  Wills and other important documents might be prepared remotely, but execution would still have to occur in person with a judge advocate present.  The best example of this is when a Military Testamentary Instrument (MTI) type will is executed.  Finally, consulting clients with non-native English competency can be very challenging over the phone. Despite these limitations, Family, Consumer, and Immigration Law are three topics perfect for telephonic representation, with the first and third topics representing the bulk of legal assistance questions in RLSO Japan.

 Reservist judge advocates are particularly well-suited for this practice, as many of us have civilian practices in these areas.   There are two other reservist judge advocates in the NR RLSO Japan unit with an interest in remote support of RLSO Japan’s legal assistance clients, both bringing extensive family law background to the RLSO Japan legal assistance mission.  Cmdr. Mark Barth operated a family law practice in Florida for many years, and Cmdr. Scott Hallauer currently operates a family law practice in Virginia.  Both agreed to spend time on remote legal assistance appointments in support of RLSO Japan’s legal assistance mission. Changes in the JAG Corps structure and guidance by senior judge advocates over the last five years demands better integration of active duty and reserve JAG Corps practices.  The way forward suggests that reservist judge advocates will only become more and more involved with active duty legal assistance offices.  As the success of this small project has indicated, modern technology enables us to deliver a quality legal assistance experience, whether our clients are in the same time zone or 8,000 miles away.