Nathan Johnson, a third-year law student at the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, has made the most of his “COVID summer” and has been selected to join the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps.
Johnson began law school at Bowen with no idea what he wanted to do. However, as he took Professor Terrence Cain’s Criminal Law course, he realized he was passionate about criminal law.
“I was learning everything I needed in other classes. I was grasping the concepts, but there wasn’t that ‘spark’ you look for in a career,” Johnson explained. “But criminal law—its history and importance, what is at stake–was intriguing. It clicked in a way nothing else had. I knew I wanted to have a career where I could give it my primary focus.”
Over the summer, Johnson realized that a career with the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s office aligned with his goals after law school. The Air Force JAG Corps trains their airmen to spend their four-year assignment handling multiple kinds of legal matters. They provide legal assistance to all airmen and advise on-base senior officers regarding various matters. But one of the primary roles for airmen during their first four years of assignment is prosecuting court-martials.
“My trial team skills will be immediately put to use, and I know that I’ll be as ready as I can,” Johnson remarked.
Johnson gained practice experience for his new career by joining Bowen’s National Mock Trial Team as a second-year student, starting as an alternate.
“In that capacity, I attended practice, listened to competing team members practice their case, and gave feedback on examinations and opening and closing statements. Essentially, I spent that whole time learning,” Johnson said.
This year, he’s competing on the team. He and his partner, Daryl Bernard Jr., are preparing for spring 2021 competition.
One professor’s impact on Johnson stands out as the reason he is so excited to participate in both competitions and the immediate trial work he will experience as a member of the Air Force JAG Corps.
“Professor Minarcin is the best thing that could have happened to me in law school,” Nate said. “He’s like the Yoda of the trial team. He has invested so much time in us, giving us the skills to be effective trial advocates. I don’t know where I would be now if it weren’t for his instruction and coaching. He has been a huge blessing to me both as a student and as a person.”
While preparing for trial team competitions, Johnson will also be a student in Bowen’s new Veterans Legal Services Clinic this semester. Under the supervision of clinic director Professor Rebecca Feldmann, Johnson will handle at least one case involving a service-connected disability compensation appeal or request for reconsideration of discharge status. He will also be completing his Rule XV clerkship with the Pulaski County Public Defender’s office. As a Rule XV clerk, he will represent clients in court under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
“It’s the best combo I could ask for,” Johnson said. “I’ll be gaining experience in the public defender’s office and in the legal clinic while completing the process of joining the JAG Corps.”
While Johnson has been selected to join the JAG Corps, the process has only just begun. He is currently in the process of getting medically cleared to join the military and will receive his base assignment after he takes the bar exam. Johnson will graduate from Bowen this May.
Before he starts his four-year assignment, he will spend four months at Officer Training School and another three months at the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course, where he will learn how to handle court-martials and compete in mock trials against senior instructing officers. After his four-year assignment is complete, Johnson can choose to take on another assignment with the Air Force and pursue criminal law-focused career paths, including defending court-martials.