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On Jan. 4, 2022, the Navy’s legalman rating marks its golden birthday – the 50th anniversary of the community’s inception. Celebrations commemorating the milestone will take place at commands across the Navy enterprise throughout early 2022, including a cake-cutting ceremony aboard the Washington Navy Yard hosted by the Office of the Judge Advocate General and Naval Legal Service Command.
The legalman rating was established by Secretary of the Navy John Chafee in early 1972, in response to a growing need for paralegal services. Rating conversions were open to Sailors ranging from second-class petty officers to master chief petty officers. By the conclusion of that year, 275 new legalmen already had taken part in a rigorous conversion course at the Naval Justice School and were providing essential legal services at commands around the globe.
Though enlisted personnel had been carrying out paralegal duties as early as World War II, calls for a separate legalman rating had increased significantly after the inception of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps five years earlier, in 1967. The legalman rating provided judge advocates and fleet commanders with personnel trained in court reporting, claims matters, investigations, legal assistance, and military justice matters, who could effectively keep records and conduct legal research.
“Today’s legalman community … has become the community of paralegals we wanted to be in 1972,” said Sanford "Sandy" Brink, a legalman rating “plank owner.”
For his first full tour as a legalman, Brink served as the leading petty officer aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CVA 67), where he helped manage nonjudicial punishment and courts-martial proceedings and carried out a wide range of legal assistance duties. Brink also was a court reporter for the investigation into the Kennedy’s collision with the USS Belknap (CG 26) in late 1975.
After numerous successful tours as a legalman, Brink was accepted into the JAG community’s limited duty officer (LDO) program and became a naval officer. He retired in 1996, after serving the organization for more than 20 years.
In the 50 years that followed its inception, the legalman rating grew and changed significantly. In 1976, a billet was established for a senior enlisted advisor to the JAG, who also would serve as the legalman community manager. In 1982, the LDO program was created, offering a pathway for legalmen who wanted to become naval officers.
In 1983, the first independent-duty legalmen – personnel with sufficient experience to serve autonomously legal advisers – were assigned to various commands. In 1990, legalman conversions were opened to third-class petty officers, as well.
More than 600 active and Reserve legalmen serve today. They play key roles at Region Legal Service Offices, Defense Service Offices, and at the Naval Justice School. Their paralegal skills support warfighters at sea, the Office of Military Commissions, and other joint operations. The legalman community is diverse and highly trained, and personnel have access to enriching mentorship and educational opportunities.
“Whether serving at sea or ashore, legalmen around the globe continue to lead the way, as highly skilled paralegals who are vital to the success of the wider JAG community and the Navy’s mission,” said Master Chief Legalman Brook Larkins, who currently serves as the senior enlisted advisor to the JAG and his leadership team.
In recent years, the legalman community has provided crucial legal support to the Navy’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Personnel have contributed to several complex legal investigations and large-scale claims efforts. Legalmen also have delivered essential assistance to numerous high-profile military justice proceedings, including courts-martial that have attracted a national spotlight.
Additionally, the community has expanded its training curricula and developed guidance to ensure legalmen skillsets are properly utilized in legal offices across the Navy enterprise. In 2020, changes were made to legalman conversion requirements, broadening career opportunities for a wider range of Sailors and boosting legalman recruitment. These reforms help ensure the rating is well-positioned for the future.
Brink calls his legalman experiences “some of the best days of [his] life.”
“The legalman community has become a great asset to the JAG Corps and to the Navy,” he said.
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