Operational law: Legal Officers forge partnerships at RIMPAC 2018

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By Lieutenant(N) Jeff Lura, Public Affairs Officer, Joint Task Force RIMPAC National Command Element

The word “lawyer” tends to evoke thoughts of court rooms and television legal dramas: eloquent speeches and cunning arguments. While it is true that Legal Officers—the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) dedicated cadre of legal professionals—spend significant time in these traditional domains of the lawyer, the uniform comes with the opportunity to be involved in so much more.

For Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Mike Baker, Canadian Legal Advisor on RIMPAC 2018, this breadth of responsibility is the best part of the job.

“I find being a Legal Officer very rewarding,” he explained, on a sunny patio outside Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam’s Pacific Warfighting Centre in Hawaii. “You feel like you’re making a difference even at a relatively-low rank; almost everything in the CAF, from operations to personnel issues to discipline flows in and around the Office of the Judge Advocate General.”

Leader of a four-member team of Canadian Legal Officers deployed on RIMPAC 2018, LCdr Baker served as Deputy Legal Advisor to the Commander of the exercise’s Combined Task Force, Vice-Admiral John Alexander of the United States Navy. In this role, he joined a multinational team responsible for interpreting rules of engagement, determining valid military objectives, and generally ensuring that decisions made by senior leaders are in accordance with pertinent laws. While he found the exercise to be a realistic approximation of life on a deployed operation, for LCdr Baker, forging partnerships was the most rewarding and important facet of the RIMPAC.

“We never know when we’re going to have to do something like this for real,” he said, referring the possibility of a large-scale, multinational maritime operation such as the one RIMPAC simulates. Should a situation arise, “we’ve already formed relationships with the countries that could be involved, and that’s important; it makes it a lot easier when you’ve got to go and do it for real.”

According to LCdr Baker, a close working relationship developed quickly between the various represented nations. This made the complex job of reaching legal consensus that much easier. “The fact that we can sit here with lawyers from Canada, Chile, Peru, the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and we can come to a common understanding of what is lawful in a coalition environment where everyone has their own interpretations – it’s impressive.”

Asked to describe his favourite RIMPAC experience, LCdr Baker refers to having his perspectives challenged, and the ongoing opportunity to challenge those of other lawyers. “There’s an old saying – you put two lawyers in a room and you get three answers to your question,” he joked. “Imagine putting ten lawyers in a room and the discussions that we have. It’s very professionally rewarding to have these conversations with people; it’s very educational in that respect.”

The Canadian Armed Forces is now hiring Legal Officers. Applications are open for qualified lawyers via the Direct Entry Officer program. Currently-serving Regular Force personnel interested in becoming Legal Officers can apply to join the occupation via the Military Legal Training Plan (MLTP). The 2018 plan is accepting applications until November 9, and more information can be found in CANFORGEN 114/18.

Image gallery

  • Military members from a variety of countries sit around a table outside
  • A man in a naval uniform crosses his arms and poses for a picture
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