If the military assigns me an attorney, why should I hire one?

Though the military may assign someone an attorney for his or her case, it may be wise to seek the assistance of outside counsel.

As outlined in the U.S. Code of Military Justice, military members have the right to an attorney, just as civilians do. When facing a court-martial or investigation in Washington, D.C., the military may assign an attorney at no cost to the person in question. While this may be beneficial in some circumstances, it is important to consider the reasons why hiring an attorney outside the military may be the wiser choice.

The risks involved

The judicial process that a civilian goes through and the process that applies to military members vary in a number of ways. However, in both cases, there is much at stake for the person facing charges. Finances, freedom and future are all on the line in either case.

A military member in a court-martial could encounter a number of outcomes, depending on which type of courts-martial he or she is involved with. For example, in a summary court-martial, someone found guilty may be required to do hard labor or may be placed in confinement. It is also possible to face a reduction in rank or reduced pay. In more serious courts-martial, such as special or general, penalties may include a bad-conduct discharge, life imprisonment and even death.

Because there is so much at stake, it is imperative for people to work with an attorney with whom they are comfortable. Simply being assigned a lawyer may not suffice.


A military-assigned attorney could be right out of law school, with little to no real-world experience. No matter the level of charges brought against someone, having a seasoned attorney is crucial to building the most solid defense possible.

Additionally, the courts-martial process is very intricate and has its own set of rules. An attorney who has spent years in the system, litigating and otherwise addressing cases similar to that of the current client, is more equipped to handle the case than someone who has never set foot in a courtroom.

Outside issues

In addition to the above-mentioned items, there are certain issues that a military attorney is simply unable to address due to the limited scope of the role. As the American Bar Association points out, someone facing the following will have to seek outside counsel:

No matter what the case may be and what the potential consequences are, every military member should feel confident regarding the attorney working on the case. People who have concerns about this topic should speak with a military defense attorney in Washington, D.C.