Several months ago, I read an article published in the Texas Bar Journal that identified the waning perception of lawyers as leaders in society (“Lawyers as Citizen Leaders,” by Leon Jaworski, February 2018, pp. 90-93). This reality continues to haunt me. In a world desperate for leadership, lawyers are—and must continue to be—leaders. Members of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps provide a seminal example of leadership in the legal profession. For military officers/JAGs, leadership is an inherent duty. Unlike military officers, however, lawyers are not taught leadership nor equipped with a given set of principles in which to apply to one’s daily practice. This article seeks to change that. For members of the U.S. Air Force, three “core values” provide the bedrock of service and leadership. These principles equally apply to the larger legal profession. Incorporating these “core values” into your daily practice offers an excellent way to work toward leaving a legacy of leadership for our society and future legal practitioners.
The Air Force core values begin with “integrity first.” There is a reason it was placed at the front. Above all else, military officers must ensure integrity in all they do. Enshrined in the Air Force Memorial are the words of former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman: “We’re entrusted with the security of our nation. The tools of our trade are lethal, and we engage in operations that involve risk to human life and untold national treasure. Because of what we do, our standards must be higher than those of society at large.” The same must be said of legal practitioners. While lawyers do not carry instruments of kinetic destruction, our tools are equally powerful and, at times, equally devastating. For this reason, integrity must be at the heart of our profession, guaranteeing the trust of those we are sworn to protect.
A lawyer’s personal life must demonstrate an equal measure of integrity. Military members are continuously reminded that duty to the nation is not a part-time job; it is 24/7, requiring persistent adherence to the principles that make our military great. Similarly, lawyers do not shed their obligations at the end of the workday. As Gen. George S. Patton once said, “You are always on parade.” Those who know our profession and role in society are always watching. As a result, we have a duty to maintain the highest standards of conduct and civility, both on and off the job. We must always uphold the trust society provides us by living a life of integrity. The American people deserve—and expect—nothing less.
Service Before Self
The Air Force’s second core value is “service before self.” Former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. John P. Jumper, once stated, “Service before self is that virtue within us all which elevates the human spirit, compels us to reach beyond our meager selves to attach our spirit to something bigger than we are.” Service requires significant sacrifice, calling servicemembers to routinely place the mission and others above their own lives and well-being.
Members of the JAG Corps are no strangers to sacrifice. My time away from home and family is measured in years rather than days or months. Deployments usually last from six months to a year in often austere and dangerous conditions. My most recent deployment was to an undisclosed location in the Middle East, where I served as staff judge advocate for a combat fighter wing battling the Islamic State. For six months, I had the pleasure of working with the best fighter pilots—and leaders—in the world, averaging roughly 14-hour days, seven days a week. These experiences are nowhere near unique or special to servicemembers across the country. It is simply what we are called to do.
Just like military servicemembers, the law is a calling that demands the very best. We, too, serve something far bigger than ourselves: the defense and sustainment of the rule of law. Lawyers are accustomed to long hours, late nights, and full days in fulfilling this mission. Whether facing criminal charges or civil dispute, clients enter our offices on their worst days seeking our knowledge and legal expertise. They rely upon this advice. We must serve them well, placing their interests above our own when necessary. It is simply what we are called to do.
Excellence in All We Do
The final Air Force core value is “excellence in all we do.” According to former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Michael E. Ryan, “That commitment to excellence is more than desirable; in the profession of arms, it’s essential. Lives depend on the fact that we maintain high standards.” Lives depend on the law as well. Our charge is equally impactful to those we serve. For this reason, we must also ensure excellence in all we do. Whether a brief, motion, negotiation, or closing argument, our profession demands we provide our clients with the highest level of quality and service.
We must also remember that this core value reminds us to ensure “excellence in all we do.” It is not simply a charge for your professional life but your personal life as well. We cannot shirk our duties to our family, our friends, and our own well-being. It begins in the home with our spouses, children, and loved ones. While deployed to the Middle East, I committed myself to tucking my children into bed each night despite my distance and demands. Doing so required that I wake at 4 a.m. each day in the hopes of finding a wireless signal. My wife and children each received daily time, where we would catch up on the events of the day and read our nighttime stories. Regardless of the circumstances—or the time I was finally able to hit the sack—I was up the next morning ready to connect with my family. It was the most difficult part of my deployment and what I am most proud of accomplishing.
Striving for excellence also opens the aperture to unknown possibilities and opportunities. During a deployment to the Darién region of Panama, I witnessed tremendous poverty among a generous, kind, and spirited local population. My position in this region gave me an opportunity to take action and show like kindness. We began a small, personal campaign that ultimately raised several thousand dollars in food, clothing, and toys for the local children, which we donated to the various indigenous tribes across the region. When later deployed to the Middle East, we conducted a similar campaign that donated school supplies, clothing, and sports equipment to two local schools. Find opportunities in your practice to strive for excellence, seizing every opportunity to make an impact. It does not take much to leave a lasting legacy.
Officers of the law are bound by a duty and service that reflects military officership. You may never don a uniform, and the closest you may get to the military is taking the kids—or grandkids—to the local air show. Regardless, the principles found within the U.S. armed forces (in this case the Air Force) transcend the military and equally apply to all of us. Striving to achieve the noble goals of demonstrating integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do should remain at the forefront of our daily practice. Whether your function is in the courtroom, the boardroom, or the Pentagon, these values deepen society’s trust in our profession and take us one step closer to leaving a legacy of leadership.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect on the official policy or position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or U.S. government.
is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He is assigned as air staff counsel at the Pentagon. Prior to this assignment, Jackson was an assistant professor in the department of law at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. He is a distinguished graduate from the academy and has served in a variety of legal positions throughout his military career including assistant staff judge advocate, area defense counsel, special victims’ counsel, deputy staff judge advocate, and twice-deployed staff judge advocate.