Some of them were in the same sections; some of them became friends outside of class. But five members of the UB School of Law’s Class of 2021 share this distinction: All are entering the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, a team of lawyers for the U.S. military who administer the Uniform Code of Military Justice and serve as legal counsel to the command to which they are assigned.
It’s an outstanding professional achievement for Joseph Fumerelle, James Hatton, Rina Hernández, Keith Kronenberg and Amber Small. And it’s a point of pride for UB Law to send five grads from a single class into the JAG Corps, whose acceptance rate for applicants is in the low single digits.
JAG officers are full members of the military branch in which they serve. They provide legal advice and may handle matters as diverse as personnel law, the law of war, contracts, estate law, and both prosecuting and defending in court martial cases. They make a four-year commitment to active duty followed by a period in the U.S. Reserves.
“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity,” says Kronenberg, who did the research and learned that many JAG officers progress quickly to courtroom litigation, a goal of his. In his 1L summer he interned with the Navy JAG Corps in Illinois, “and that solidified my desire to serve.” He also structured his law school courses around getting into the program, including Trial Technique and the Veterans Legal Practicum.
Military service often runs in families, and Kronenberg has precedent in his: His grandfather served in both World War II and Korea. Now he’ll attend a direct commission course, in January, at Fort Benning in Georgia, followed by specialized JAG officer training in Charlottesville, Virginia. His preliminary duty assignment is in Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
His classmates Fumerelle, Hatton and Small will also serve in the U.S. Army. Hernández will serve in the U.S. Air Force.
Small says she became interested in a JAG Corps career during an internship with the U.S. Attorney’s office, where one of the prosecutors had served in the JAG Corps and highly recommended it.
“It’s probably the best type of training you can get,” says Small, whose long-term goal is to prosecute sex crimes on the state level or work as a federal prosecutor. She too has a family connection to the military: Her brother was a soldier, serving in Kuwait.
Small says the application process was long and rigorous, involving an initial application, an extensive background check, medical records and even a physical fitness test. Her officer training will be at Fort Benning, Georgia, followed by JAG training in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For Hernández, who was Student Bar Association president in her 3L year, her interest in the JAG Corps began early on with a law internship fair in New York City. “I was walking around the tables and networking with these law firms, but nothing quite caught my interest,” she says. “On my way out, I saw a couple of men and women in uniform and they introduced themselves as JAG officers. I had seen A Few Good Men a couple of times, and I was captivated by the idea of being a lawyer not necessarily in the traditional sense of doing transactional work.” She liked the promise of being in the courtroom early in her career, and of traveling for the job.
“From that day on,” she says, “I kept asking myself, how do I get in? I made deliberate choices as to what kind of courses and extracurriculars I would do.” She graduated from UB Law with a concentration in advocacy.
Hernández will be the first in her family to serve in the military, with officer training and then JAG school at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and an initial posting at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Her training, she says, will include “two months of being indoctrinated in the Air Force and its traditions. We are officers first, lawyers second.”