Closing Argument - The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center & School
Principled Counsel: Professional advice on Law and Policy grounded in the Army Ethic and enduring respect for the Rule of Law, effectively communicated with appropriate candor and morale courage, that influences informed decisions.1
Principled counsel is expected of military paralegals, paralegal noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and civilian paraprofessionals. Doctrinal responsibilities demand principled counsel from NCOs—and all leaders. These responsibilities are outlined in Army Regulation (AR) 600–20, Army Command Policy;2 Army Doctrine Publication 6–22, Army Leadership and the Profession;3 Training Circular 7–22.7, The Noncommissioned Officer Guide;4 Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 6–22.1, The Counseling Process;5 and Field Manual 1–04, Legal Support to Operations6—just to name a few.
Imagine working in a profession where almost every time you speak to someone, the words you say matter. Imagine a profession where people come to you for advice or guidance toward some end—a profession where you often have to keep a calm demeanor regardless of the situation. This is exactly what we do in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps!
Principled Counsel for NCOs, Junior Enlisted, and Paraprofessionals
We know our Four Constants7—we know how our most senior leaders define principled counsel as quoted above; but, do we all understand it? It is my assumption that many do not truly realize what it means. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because they cannot explain it. When you truly understand something—you can usually explain it in simple terms. If you confuse yourself trying to explain or execute; then you may not know what you should know. Principled counsel seems easy to understand for our judge advocates and civilian attorneys in its definitive prose as they execute it; but for legal administrators and paralegal NCOs and specialists, it may not be as clear. I believe that I have practiced principled counsel my entire career, regardless of position—whether trainer, coach, mentor, leader, follower, or even peer. I have found myself providing or needing appropriate candor and moral courage to influence informed decisions.
As an Army paralegal NCO, principled counsel is in the leadership doctrine we begin to study as E-4s preparing for unit promotion boards and competitions. We advance this study throughout each level of our NCO professional military education. Principled counsel is also found throughout the NCO Creed that many of us live by—for example, “I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.”8 Simply put, NCOs advise commanders and officers on adverse actions and decisions that affect junior personnel and organizations. Noncommissioned officers must stay informed on policy, standards, discipline, and people. Any principled counsel from an NCO to an officer is important because of the role that NCOs play within organizations—a role found in the authority derived from commanders in AR 600–20 and venerated in our NCO Creed.
One way to understand principled counsel is by its key term “counsel.” Our Service has manuals and guides devoted to it. It simply means “to give advice.” When we tie in “principle,” we get moral and legal advice. Paralegal NCOs must become well-versed in ATP 6–22.1, The Counseling Process. Studying ATP 6–22.1 will help you become better at providing counsel and principled counsel for a variety of military professional and personal situations.
Leaders counsel often—sometimes in writing, other times verbally and nonverbally (if you’re good). Some may think that invoking “principled counsel” is reserved for heavy situations when we must become expert or key to a decision or outcome. Ultimately, as NCOs, principled counsel should be infused in what we do in our profession on a daily basis—care for our people and look out for each other.
Principled Counsel in Action
We provide principled counsel in all our legal functional areas: military justice, administrative law, legal assistance, contract and fiscal law, and national security law. Paraprofessionals and military paralegals provide principled counsel in support to most of our legal functional areas. Whether it’s the teammate supporting a military justice action by informing a witness or victim about procedural matters, helping with documents and forms, or a defense paralegal assisting a Trial Defense Service client with an adverse action proceeding, paraprofessionals still must provide principled counsel. Other times, our teammates in legal assistance offices enable their clients to solve some personal and complex matters due to their ability to understand principled counsel and enable them to make decisions on a different scale. Or maybe the teammate in administrative and civil law is advising the investigating officer on how to properly assemble an investigative product or complete a DA Form 3881. Then there is the national security law paralegal informing a teammate of the location and protected status of a building near a key target on a map/screen during an exercise. Military and civilian paralegals and paraprofessionals leverage principled counsel when interpreting and guiding others in our profession of arms.
Our doctrine, law, regulations, and policy inform our appetite for new information. You may recall an anecdote I once shared about fundraising, when the paralegals from my brigade legal team provided me with principled counsel on what I was allowed to do in an instant.9 These teammates succeeded because they were prepared and competent. Through institutional learning, organization training, and self-development programs, they acquired and sustained the knowledge necessary to communicate to a senior leader and enabled me to make an informed decision. Lifelong learning enables us to stay ready and knowledgeable in providing principled counsel when the time arises.
Senior leaders leverage principled counsel when they develop subordinates. We use it in reception, integration, and retention. We support our teammates through sage and accurate advice that often influences them to pursue short- and long-term goals: to resign or not re-enlist, or to reenlist and “Stay Army Strong.” Think of that first moment when you considered leaving the U.S. Army. Which leader aided you in making an informed decision to stay on the team longer? Was their counsel principled? When was the first or most recent time you provided principled counsel for a subordinate, Family member, or client? What would you change now that you have understood principled counsel as one of our Corps’s core constants?
Solving Problems and Recommending Solutions
Within NCO spheres of influence, we provide principled counsel to our peers. We provide principled counsel to unit platoon sergeants, first sergeants, and sergeants major—mostly this consists of guidance that enables them to understand the commander’s authority and intent more clearly through our ability to research and analyze information. I think we even provide principled counsel in routine on-the-spot corrections. (Yes—think about that for a moment—I think I am right.) No, it isn’t the rule of law—instead it’s standards and discipline. It may even be life or death when it relates to performing maintenance services on unit equipment or an individual weapon in a hostile area of operations.
Much of what I offer in this Closing Argument is not focused on regulation or the rule of law; it is, however, supported on the ethic of our service. As military and Civilian paralegal paraprofessionals and NCOs, we support this constant of principled counsel daily in most of our duties and responsibilities. While military and Civilian paralegals and paraprofessionals are not the ones giving legal advice, it is vital that we ready ourselves to give principled counsel to our judge advocates and comrades in arms. For it is through that principled counsel that we ensure our people are cared for and the mission is accomplished.
Ready Now! TAL
CSM Bostic is the Regimental Command Sergeant Major of The Judge Advocate General’s Corps at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
1. The Judge Advoc. Gen. & Deputy Judge Advoc. Gen., TJAG and DJAG Sends, Vol. 40-16—Principled Counsel—Our Mandate as Dual Professionals (9 Jan. 2020).
2. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 600-20, Army Command Policy (24 July 2020).
3. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Doctrine Pub. 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession (31 July 2019).
4. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Training Circular 7-22.7, The Noncommissioned Officer Guide (1 Jan. 2020).
5. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Army Techs. Publ’n 6-22.1, The Counseling Process (1 July 2014).
6. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Field Manual 1-04, Legal Support to Operations (8 June 2020).
7. The Judge Advoc. Gen.’s Corps, U.S. Dep’t of Army, Four Constants, at slide 2 (2021), https://www.jagcnet.army.mil/Sites/jagc.nsf/0/46DCA0CA1EE75266852586C5004A681F/$File/US%20Army%20JAG%20Corps%20Four%20Constants%20Smart%20Card.pdf (the four constants are Principled Counsel, Servant Leadership, Stewardship, Mastery of the Law).
8. NCO Creed, U.S. Army, https://www.army.mil/values/nco.html (last visited Aug. 6, 2021).
9. Command Sergeant Major Michael J. Bostic, Tactically and Technically Proficient: Balancing Lethality with Technical Competence in a Comprehensive Field, Army Law., no. 1, 2021, at 40, 43.