Become a high-flyer
15 May 2006
RAF lawyer Michaela Strowger argues that the armed services offer unparalleled career development
The RAF Legal Branch offers an interesting alternative career path to solicitors looking to get out of the rat race by providing access to more unusual on-the-job training and further education. Where else do you have the opportunity to learn about weaponry, assist with the development of military legislation or go on an exchange programme with the Pentagon? However, it is not for the faint hearted.
After two years in private practice as a divorce and personal injury solicitor at a high street firm, I was looking for a change and decided to join the RAF. I was fed up with the long and sometimes unsociable hours, the pressure of time sheets and the lack of work-life balance. I wanted the chance to do something a bit different with my career.
To join the RAF as a solicitor, candidates must undergo a series of interviews. If selected, recruits then participate in eight weeks of initial officer training at RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. This is a shortened version of the introduction to military life that every RAF recruit must undergo and includes everything from survival skills and basic fitness training to learning how to march.
Once legal recruits have passed this training, they move on to a two-week induction course into the legal branch before beginning their first posting.
The legal team
There are 15 separate legal teams within the RAF Legal Branch, scattered from the RAF Prosecuting Authority at Innsworth to representatives in Northern Ireland, Germany, Italy and Cyprus. Each of the legal teams are small; I work within one of the larger teams, which is made up of three other staff lawyers who report to the command legal adviser.
The Legal Branch represents the RAF as an organisation, not individual service personnel. If individuals require representation, they have to instruct external counsel.
On average, each legal adviser within the team is allocated 10 police reports per week, as well as answering any legal enquiries from divisions within the RAF, such as the RAF Police, either by phone or face-to-face. Cases vary in subject, from domestic law for stations, housing issues for service personnel or local civilians and environmental issues with aircraft and noise pollution, to name a few. These cases can range from simple disciplinary charges through to more serious criminal offences.
My legal branch advises how best cases should be dealt with. In some instances it is referred to a higher authority for further consideration, such as the RAF Prosecuting Authority, which looks at cases with a view to trial by court martial.
There is a wide range of training and development programmes available through the RAF Legal Branch. For example, I am currently studying for my Higher Rights, enabling me to practise in courts. I am also looking to continue my career development by studying for a Masters in International Law. Other opportunities available include courses on joint weapon systems in the UK, rules of engagement and a study of Nato.
There are also opportunities for postings abroad, for example with the Legal Branch’s two German posts. The RAF Legal Branch also has an ongoing exchange programme with the Pentagon in the US and has previously run a similar exchange programme with the Royal Australian Air Force. The opportunities for such professional development is something that appealed to me, as well as the opportunity to travel and experience life in different countries. But be warned - like every member of the RAF, you must undergo an annual fitness test.
Michaela Strowger is a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Legal Branch