On the first day of this year, a major update and reform of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) went into effect. All U.S. military personnel are now living by it and seeking just treatment under it.

Relatively few civilians know it happened and understanding of the changes even among the military ranks is no-doubt spotty. Some experts say this new UCMJ represents the biggest overhaul in its nearly 70-year history. To paraphrase an old car commercial, this is not your father’s UCMJ.

The accused has decisions to make

If you’re accused of a crime under the UCMJ, you’re entitled to be assigned a defense attorney by the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps at no cost to you. And free is a very attractive price.

Although the changes went into effect on January 1, a team from JAG spent the entire previous year visiting nearly 50 installations to train over 6,000 military attorneys and legal personnel on the new legal landscape.

However, under both the old and new rules, you can also hire your own civilian attorneys on your own dime. If you do, you get to keep your JAG-assigned lawyer as part of what would then be your team of attorneys.

Why would you want both a civilian and a JAG attorney

Civilian military attorneys are civilians and can worry less about the approval of the hierarchy. Depending on the specifics of the case, pointing fingers wherever fingers need to be pointed could prove important.

You might also be able to find many years of JAG Corps experience in a civilian attorney, whereas the attorney assigned to you may, to one extent or another, be learning on the job. With a civilian defense attorney, you get to choose who represents you.

Some JAG defense attorneys have large caseloads and may not be able to give your case their full attention, much as with court-appointed public defenders. They and your hired attorney may not only have different amounts of time to dedicate, the quality of their time may be increased for each if they work as a team.