Back to Top

Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL)

DCL Overview:

Law students in their final year of a JD program and licensed attorneys are eligible to serve as Judge Advocates for the US Coast Guard through the Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL) program. Selection into this program provides the unique opportunity to practice law in support of Coast Guard missions and Coast Guard personnel, encompassing a diverse range of 10 legal practice areas:

  • Criminal Law/Military Justice
  • Operations
  • International Activities
  • Civil Advocacy
  • Environmental Law
  • Procurement Law
  • Internal Organizational Law
  • Regulations & Administrative Law
  • Legislative Support
  • Legal Assistance

In fiscal year 2017, applicants with experience in courtroom litigation, cyber law and sexual assault will be especially competitive as these are priority practice areas for the Coast Guard.

Initial Assignments and Training:

DCL selectees commission in the USCG approximately 30 days prior to attending the Direct Commission Officer (DCO) course in New London, Connecticut. Following commissioning, DCLs will report to their assigned unit, and then go TDY (temporary duty) to DCO school, which will be 4-5 weeks in duration. Following completion of the DCO course, DCLs return to their permanently assigned unit. Following completion of the DCO course, DCLs attend the 10 week Basic Lawyer Class at Naval Justice School in Newport, RI, where they will become Judge Advocates. Judge Advocates receive a broad spectrum of experience and a high degree of responsibility from the time they report to their first assignments.  New Judge Advocates will receive an initial four year assignment as a Coast Guard attorney.

Career Path:

Following their initial assignment, Judge Advocates can anticipate broadening their experience within Coast Guard JAG, with increasing levels of leadership and management exposure with progression in rank.  Likewise, Judge Advocates have opportunities for special assignments and operational assignments.

DCL Eligibility Requirements:

  1. Age: Have reached your 21st but not your 42nd birthday as of 30 September of the fiscal year in which the selection panel convenes.
  2. Character Standards:  
    • All applicants must be of outstanding moral character.
    • Applicants currently in the Coast Guard: Applicants are ineligible for commissioning if in the 36 months prior to the first DCO class convening date in the selection cycle, they have been convicted by a court-martial, been awarded non-judicial punishment (NJP), received an “Unsatisfactory” conduct mark, received a mark of less than “4” in any performance dimension, received a negative Administrative Remarks, or been involved in an alcohol-related incident.
  3. Citizenship: Must be a U.S. Citizen
  4. Clearance: Must be eligible for a Secret Clearance
  5. Dependency:
    • May not have more than 3 dependents (your spouse is considered your dependent, regardless of military status).
    • Coast Guard active duty applicants, E-5 and above, with a minimum of four years active military service (excluding active duty for training), at least two years of which must be Coast Guard active duty service may have sole or primary custody of dependents.
      • All eligible applicants must provide a dependent care plan with an indefinite general Power of Attorney.
  6. Education:
    • Be a graduate of, or a third-year law student in an ABA (American Bar Association) accredited law school, OR
    • Be a graduate of a Non-ABA accredited law school and meet all of the following:
      • Admitted to practice before the bar of the highest court of any State jurisdiction.
      • Demonstrate experience practicing law in one or more areas of law specifically applicable to the Coast Guard.
      • Possess military or other government experience predicting success as a Coast Guard Officer.
  7. Financial: Must meet all financial obligations, and not have a debt to income ratio in excess of 80% (ratio of debt to projected income at applicant’s highest accession level i.e. at the O-3 level).
    • May not have filed for bankruptcy in the last 10 years.
    • Student Loans: applicants shall also disclose to their recruiter any student loan payments that are in deferment, and the anticipated date and amount of re-payment of those loans.
  8. Interview: Applicants are required to complete a lawyer-specific interview, conducted by a board comprised of at least one active duty attorney. This lawyer-specific interview will be documented on the Officer Programs Direct Commission Lawyer Form, CG-5527L.
  9. Military Service:
    • Not required
    • Max Active Duty Service: Have less than 10 years of non-Coast Guard active-duty military service as of commissioning date, which is equivalent to the date that the applicant, if selected, will take their oath of office.
    • Coast Guard Officers:
      • ADPL Officers: Applicants currently holding a commission in the Coast Guard or Coast Guard Reserve who are on the Active Duty Promotion List (ADPL) are not eligible to apply.  
      • IDPL Officers: If a Reserve Officer on the Inactive Duty Promotion List (IDPL) meets the eligibility criteria, he/she may apply for the program, provided a conditional resignation, approved by CG-PSC-rpm, is included in the application package.
      • Commissioned Officers: who have been separated or removed from active duty from any Service as a result of non-selection for promotion, extension, or integration may not apply for any Coast Guard commissioning program.
        • Conditional Release: Members currently in another military service (or IRR) and CG Reservists must furnish an approved DD368 form (conditional release) in their application package.  
        • Release approval (validity) period: The release shall be valid, at a minimum, through the date of the panels (14 Nov 16 or 24 Apr 17) for which the applicant is applying.  Ideally, the release should be valid through the projected accession date for that panel.
        • CG Reservists, CG IRR, and Other Military Service IRR: Recruiters shall submit the DD368 (with only Section I complete) to CGRC Accessions branch at
        • CG Active Duty Enlisted: do not need a conditional release
        • Members of Other Military Services (except IRR): The applicant shall submit the DD368 (with Section I complete) through their chain of command to their services’ authorizing official* (which is different for each service).  Once approved, the DD368 and any other approval documents (i.e. Service Memorandum) shall be submitted in the application package.
  10. Physical (Medical): Must pass a commissioning physical (including):
    • Normal Color Vision
    • Meet height/weight standards:
      • CG members: Must meet MAW or Body Fat standards as per COMDTINST M1020.8H
      • Civilians and Members of Other Military Services: see Appendix 1
    • Shall complete a structured physical fitness program while at DCO school.
  11. Test Score:  There is no test score requirement for DCL applicants
  12. Program-Specific Requirements: 
    • Bar Exam:
      • Hold either admission to the bar of the highest court of a State, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. Territory, OR
      • Present evidence of having made an application to take such a bar in the application package, via an affidavit (Proof of Bar/evidence of Intent to Complete Bar Exam)
      • Note about the bar exam: it is not a requirement to have passed the bar exam to be eligible to apply. You must at least have made an application to take the bar exam. If you are selected for DCL, you must pass the bar within 2 years of being commissioned in the USCG.
    • Writing: Applicants must provide a Legal Writing Sample – maximum of 10 single-spaced pages.
  13. Tattoos: Applicants may not have tattoos or body markings that are inconsistent with the CG tattoo, body marking, body piercing, and mutilation policy. 
  14. DCO Pre-Reporting Guide: Applicants must have read and understood the DCO Pre-Reporting Guide.

DCL Terms of Service and Appointment Grade:

  1. For Licensed attorneys (already admitted to the bar) – Four-year Extended Active Duty (EAD) contract.
  2. For 3L law students who have applied for admission to, but have not yet taken, the bar – Two-year EAD contract, extended to four years automatically upon gaining admission to the bar.
  3. For law school graduates who have applied for admission to the bar and taken the bar exam but are awaiting results – Offer of four-year Extended Active Duty contract, contingent on proof of admission to bar. Applicants must include documentation of proof of bar admission within deadline of acceptance offer.
  4. Selectees will receive a commission as a Lieutenant (O-3).

Application Process:

If you are ready to apply, you must visit the “Plan Your Next Move to become an Active Duty Coast Guard Officer” page and follow the application process.