By Major Faisal Akhter
Military service is a privilege that sometimes requires sacrifice. While I have found this oft-repeated adage to be true (particularly during permanent change of station season), fortunately, this phrase also includes “sometimes.” When I transitioned to the civilian sector after eight years on active duty, I chose to continue serving in the Reserves. I did so because I deeply value both my military service and the opportunity to continue serving alongside the amazing people in our Corps.
That said, another advantage of continued military service, which I candidly never predicted, is how it supports my civilian career. One might think that reserve duty would be a hindrance to civilian careers. Without diminishing anyone’s hesitation, which can be highly dependent on personal considerations and goals, there are under-appreciated benefits to continued service. Through the skills I continue to learn and hone, the people I continue to meet, and the development opportunities I continue to receive, I have found the sacrifice that “sometimes” comes with the Reserves has positively contributed to my civilian profession.
Skills that Military
As judge advocates (JAs), we are continually asked to labor on ever-changing, highly visible work that lacks precedent. For example, the sweeping reforms that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA)1 made to our military justice system directly impacted my work as a defense counsel in the Reserves. This new system requires forward-thinking, agile mindsets from military legal professionals. It demands our Corps be quick to adapt, appreciate different stakeholders, anticipate problems, and find ways to incorporate long-term thinking that will likely result in subsequent refinement through policy advocacy and feedback.
While such substance can differ starkly from what is managed in a civilian career, speaking as someone who does not practice criminal law outside of the Army, there is tremendous value in being part of these changes. Specifically, knowing how to navigate this new and evolving system as a defense counsel fosters the legal skills that benefit any civilian position. As a senior corporate counsel at Microsoft, I am asked to advise on and incorporate new business ideas that significantly differ from our current processes. These can be initiated through many channels: business leaders, regulatory pressure, shareholder proposals, and other, similar external sources.
Take, for instance, the continually evolving area of data, privacy, and its surrounding global regulations. In October 2022, the European Union published the Digital Services Act, which goes into effect in 2024.2 Savvy legal professionals must know the business well, advise business strategy based on this new regulation, and help the business evolve in this new and changing landscape.
Judge advocates are continually expected to exercise these skillsets to manage updates and changes, such as legislative and administrative evolutions within the NDAA. Their ability to work closely with different stakeholders, just as they would with command teams, staff, and clients, is critically important. Listening to my reserve clients’ desires and communicating how this different military justice approach can potentially impact their military careers is very similar to advising civilian clients on how a new regulation can impact their business. No matter the underlying subject, the ability to listen, learn, and communicate legal implications to the command or “the business” gets sharpened in more ways as a reservist.
Continued Connection to the Corps
When I interned as a first-year law student with 3d Infantry Division in Fort Stewart, I discovered that our Corps, both uniformed and civilian, is filled with hardworking team players with strong values and a diverse set of experiences and opinions. Of all the reasons that I continue military service, our people are right near the top of this list.
As a reservist, I get to stay connected to other reservists from different parts of the country, practice in different areas of the law, and continue to be part of the JAG network. If there is a legal issue in a reservist’s civilian practice, they now have a vast network of other legal professionals from whom they can learn. Moreover, if reservists’ civilian work intersects, they now have peers with whom they can teach or attend a continuing legal education, jointly work on a pro bono matter, or find occasions to introduce each other to colleagues and extend their networks. Just like the legendary “third file” and by-name requests suggest, building and maintaining a great reputation is key. Those strong relationships where others, like your Reserve unit colleagues, will vouch for you remain priceless.
JAG Corps’s Professional
This past year, my Reserve unit sent me to the Contract Attorney Course (CAC) at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. The course was a great opportunity to learn, augment my skillset to benefit our Corps, and meet other contract attorneys who work across the federal government. Since attending the course, I am more competent when it comes to advising a command on contract issues, and am better connected to experts in the field.
Furthermore, my civilian employer has a government contracts department. I now have a stronger baseline to support these teams where I can, which adds to my civilian skillset and helps generate opportunities for professional growth within my organization. Though the CAC had little to do with my current reserve position or my civilian practice, it was a fantastic learning opportunity that I would not have otherwise had were I not in the Reserves.
Again, one of the best things about continuing to serve in the Reserves is how it has unexpectedly helped my civilian career. I have had the ability to practice in new areas with a diverse group of people, learned about different areas of the law from world-class practitioners, and built countless relationships with incredible people who are similarly dedicated to public service. For those considering joining the Reserves or continuing military service beyond active duty, I hope you consider not just what you and your family will, undoubtedly, sacrifice, but also, what you and your career will gain. TAL
MAJ Akhter serves in the U.S. Army Reserves as the Deputy Group Judge Advocate for the U.S. Army Reserve Theater Support Group-Pacific. In his civilian career, he is a senior corporate counsel and leads a team of attorneys at Microsoft.
1. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, Pub. L. No. 117-81, 135 Stat. 1541 (2021).
2. Commission Regulation 2022/2065 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 October 2022 on a Single Market for Digital Services and amending Directive 2000/31/EC (Digital Services Act), art. 93, 2022 O.J. (L 277) 1.