Looking back, Marine Corps 1st. Lt. Peter Rush always knew his passions would lead him to seek out a legal profession. Growing up in the small town of Boerne, Texas, his desire to help others and perform his civil service are reflected in his current occupation as a Marine Corps Judge Advocate.
Rush, a defense counsel with Legal Service Support Section, or LSSS, National Capital Region in Quantico, Virginia, said his favorite part about his current duties is getting to help Marines in complicated situations.
“A lot of them are facing the worst time in their lives,” said Rush. “I’m the person that has the opportunity to help them get through that.”
He defends them during court martial, administrative separations and board of inquiries. He helps Marines wade through administrative and military justice issues on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s important because we’re the last line of defense for Marines accused of committing a crime, or if their command wants to separate them from the Marine Corps,” said Rush. “We’re the people they come to, to fight back on [their] behalf.”
Rush said he decided to study law to play towards his strengths and in doing so found his passion. “I was never somebody who was business-minded or interested in any sciences, said Rush. “I gravitated towards writing and arguing. It fit my strengths, and it was the step that made sense to me.”
Rush attended Baylor University before continuing his education at the University of Texas Law program. He practiced civilian law for two years before commissioning into the Marine Corps.
“[The Marine Corps] is definitely not for everyone. I wanted to join the Marine Corps because I wanted to be a Marine Officer first and foremost,” said Rush. “I commissioned because I wanted to challenge myself in more ways than one. I didn’t just want to be an attorney, I wanted to be a Marine too. I think the Marine Corps is the only branch that allows you to take pride in your title as a Marine and as a defense attorney.”
In order to become a Judge Advocate one would have to commission as an officer and graduate Officer Candidate School just like every other officer candidate. Following OCS is The Basic School, a six month program where Marine officers learn every aspect related to leading Marines.
Once graduated from TBS, Marine lawyers go to the Naval Justice School in Rhode Island. Upon completing the NJS program, a billet is assigned. Graduates either become a defense counsel or are sent to be a trial counsel, performing all manner of tasks from serving as a prosecutor to helping Marines with their wills.
Marine judge advocates are unique in the military. Rush said unlike other branches, Marine judge advocates are seen as Marine officers first. They have high standards as leaders and are expected to endure a lot of difficult training.
“If you’re the type of person who wants to challenge yourself and wants to be a part of a team it’s probably a great place for you,” said Rush. “I think the Marine Corps is the only branch that gives you the same training as any other officer. You have go to Officer Candidate School and The Basic School just like everyone else. You get to interact with your peers, who are going to be infantry or logistic officers.”
Rush said it’s important to learn from others and staying humble could help JAG lawyers thrive in this career. “There is a very steep learning curve, especially in defense because we are handling cases that really affect a Marine’s future,” said Rush. “There’s a lot you have to learn when you’re helping a client out, so humility is really important. Just having the ability to admit when you don’t know something and go to other people for help can help you grow in this field.”
Though people are there to help you and give you a new perspective on your work, there isn’t a lot of hand-holding, Rush said. Marines are given responsibility as soon as they arrive from the NJS to their first duty station.
“The Marine Corps is good about giving you work experience quickly,” said Rush. “There are people you can lean on, who can help you, but at the same time it’s common for you to be staffed on a court martial very quickly after graduating from school.”
Rush’s biggest challenge was learning how to be a criminal defense attorney quickly after coming from a background of civil litigation. He had to learn the ins and outs of the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well, which is unique.
As he faced those challenges, thoughts of his mom inspired him to continue to strive to be a better attorney and a Marine. “She raised me and my sister as a single parent pretty much her whole life,” said Rush. “She passed away of brain cancer when I was in my last semester of law school. She was a person who overcame a lot of adversity in her life and she never let it affect her. She never let it affect her performance at work, or her parenting either. She was the best possible mom to my sister and me. After seeing her go through everything she did, she’s definitely the person I look up to the most in my life.”
Rush’s path to becoming a Marine lawyer was not typical. Before deciding to serve in the Marines, he was a practicing attorney for two years. “I left a really good civilian job as an attorney, where I was paid very well,” said Rush. “I took a substantial pay cut to join the Marine Corps, and I haven’t regretted it a day since. I get to spend a lot of time with my wife, but at the same time I’m still working hard. The lifework balance is definitely better here than at my last job.
Generally, I would just say it was a great decision to leave a job most people would be happy to have, because I love the experiences. I love my job. I love the people I work with. And when it’s all said and done, I love getting to help Marines every day when I wake up. I haven’t regretted it a single day.”