For many lawyers with ties to Colorado, duty to the country is as much a priority as service to clients. Whether they wear the uniform of the U.S Air Force, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Marine Corps, or the U.S. Navy, these lawyers share an enthusiasm about the wide range of experiences available to them and the work they do as airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers.
Maj. James P. Ferrell, U.S. Air Force
For University of Tennessee law student Pete Ferrell, circa 2009, the courtroom represented the grail of his ambition. “I knew I wanted to work in public service, and I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer,” he said. “The Air Force provided that to me and gave me those opportunities.”
Ferrell, who now serves as deputy staff judge advocate at Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, recalls that he has tried dozens of cases to a judge or jury during his decade-plus long career. “I think the last count was 65, which is crazy,” he said. “I don’t know where else you get that kind of experience.”
Ferrell’s current job has given him a break from that hectic pace of litigation but not any less responsibility. He now supervises a staff of eight military lawyers, two civilian lawyers and about the same number of support employees. His daily work requires him to juggle a variety of priorities, which can range from overseeing prosecutors in criminal cases to monitoring the work of more junior officers involved with the civil law problems that are a constant presence on a military installation. “Think labor law, environmental law, contracting and fiscal law,” he said of the myriad civil issues that arise. “A base has employees, a base has money, a base has an environmental impact on the local community.”
Air Force needs dictate where a JAG officer serves and, as a consequence, Ferrell’s career has taken him to bases in Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia before assignment to the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Legal Office in July 2019. He served overseas in Afghanistan during 2012–2013 in a unit with lawyers from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
Service in a variety of places also comes with a diversity of experiences. Stateside, Ferrell’s duties have included work as a military defense counsel and as an Air Force prosecutor. He counts that work in the criminal law arena, especially representation of accused airmen, as among the most challenging and rewarding he has done. “I had cases with more than 100 years of jail on the line, as high as the stakes can be,” he said. “I probably had a dozen cases where the stakes were that high.” The challenges of litigating court martial proceedings go beyond the trial skills needed in a civilian court, Ferrell explained. “If you want to try your stuff out in front of one of the most sophisticated audiences you’ll ever see, go try to do a jury trial when your jury is all people with, at minimum, master’s degrees. Do not mess up.”
Sometimes, according to Ferrell, a JAG Corps officer’s work can even involve advocacy before the nation’s highest court. He said that, in two cases now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, military lawyers are representing court martial defendants. In addition, Air Force lawyers can be tasked with representing the government or the accused in appeals before the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. “You’re represented at that phase by another military lawyer, just like you were at the trial phase,” he explained.
As a major, Ferrell has completed required training in Air Force leadership and officer skills provided by the Air Command and Staff College. Ferrell, 36, expects to have his first opportunity to be promoted to lieutenant colonel next year when a board of officers considers whether he is ready for an advancement in grade. “They’re going to rack and sack me against all the other major JAGs,” he said. He said that, in his experience, Air Force officers concern themselves more with doing their job well than about rank. “If it’s the right path for you, and you do the right stuff and you work hard, you don’t worry about making the next rank.”
And with the high-stakes and high-expectations come stress as well. “You might get asked, on any given day, a question about something that [you] have no clue about,” Ferrell explained. “It can be disconcerting for lawyers who are used to knowing their field, used to knowing the answers. There’s an Air Force saying, ‘flexibility is the key to air power,’ and it’s true for the lawyers, too. You just don’t know what’s going to happen and you need to get it right. You can’t wander around guessing. We can’t afford to have lawyers shoot from the hip and mess it up.”
Ferrell’s family is along for the flight. He and his wife, Jenna, have an 18-month old daughter. Jenna, a major in the U.S. Army, is also a JAG officer and is stationed at Fort Carson. “Fortunately for us, we have found the military to be extremely accommodating,” Ferrell said. “Family is very important to military types. We know that built-in drawback, you’re going to move.”
Asked whether he would recommend his career path to other lawyers, Ferrell said he would not hesitate. “If you’re looking for a career that will engage you, that will give you opportunities to succeed and be challenged in a community, to do public service, serve your country, and you want to really develop yourself as a lawyer in as broad a way as you possibly can, then look at the JAG Corps,” he said.
LTC Jeffrey A. Sherman, U.S. Army Reserve/Wyoming National Guard
Jeff Sherman did not plan to become a soldier. During his last year of law school at the University of Michigan in 1993, he imagined that he’d become a civil rights lawyer.
By “happenstance,” he found a position as a corporate lawyer at New York’s Thacher Proffitt & Wood. Finding the specialty particularly compatible with his personality, Sherman moved over to Tenzer Greenblatt – now a part of Blank Rome – a few years later. After moving to Colorado in 1997, Sherman eventually joined the firm that is now Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath and rose to the partnership, where he continues to represent companies in mergers and acquisitions. He could not have anticipated that events of a few years later would prompt him to put on the uniform.
When a legal assistant at his Denver firm mentioned that Sherman might enjoy Army JAG service and should consider it, Sherman was hesitant. “I had just made partner, I had just had my first child, and I thought, it’s just not the right time. I had no military background, so it was daunting to me. I was already in my early 30s,” he said. “I really didn’t give it another thought.”
He did not take the step until, as his wife described it, he was “feeling lost” after the 9/11 attacks. “Like a lot of people, I was walking around in a daze for a couple of weeks after that,” he said. “I put in my paperwork and that’s where it started.”
Today, after about 18 years of service, the corporate lawyer is the staff judge advocate of the Wyoming National Guard. “Any uniformed lawyer in the Army is a judge advocate, from a first lieutenant up to a general officer,” he said. “The staff judge advocate is the head lawyer of an organization. They are essentially the general counsel of the organization.” Sherman said his job primarily involves advising the brigadier general who commands the Equality State’s Army national guard. “I take a lot of calls from the general during the week,” he said.
Prior to taking that assignment, Sherman’s military career had encompassed 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve. He highlighted an assignment as Command Judge Advocate with the Army’s 1st Space Brigade at U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Colorado Springs from 2012-2015. “It deals with the Army’s space assets,” he said. “I was surprised to learn that it had any. That was a really cool job because I got to learn about orbital dynamics and our satellites.”
The path to his success as a JAG officer began in Fort Lee, Virginia, at the Officer Basic Course. To this day, Sherman regards his time at Fort Lee as “one of the best experiences” of his life. “I have lifelong friends from it,” he said. “For me, it was a month in person and then about a yearlong of online courses,” he said. “The in-person was how to march, how to do land navigation, how to salute and fire your weapon — the basics of soldiering. Then we did the unique military law issues. Nowadays they don’t let you do that part remotely,” Sherman continued. The Army now requires new JAG officers to attend the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School on the campus of the University of Virginia for a course that lasts for about three or four months.
During his career Sherman has also been posted to forts Bliss and Hood in Texas, Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks, Fort Carson, and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. At those bases, he worked in international and operational law and fiscal law and client services and served as an assistant staff judge advocate. He has also been deployed overseas to Germany and Iraq.
His duty in Iraq during 2010-2011 was as a deputy brigade judge advocate at Forward Operating Base Warhorse near Baquba, in the Diyala province about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. During his 10-and-a-half months there, he trained judges and prosecutors in operating a justice system based on law.
“Under Saddam Hussein, frequently people were deemed guilty or innocent based solely on their tribal affiliations,” he explained. “We were training them to follow their own law in criminal procedures.” Sherman also reviewed missions to assure they were consistent with the Geneva Conventions and American rules of engagement for military action and oversaw the provision of legal assistance to soldiers. “If someone was having a consumer credit issue at home, or a divorce issue, they’re not going to be focused on the dangerous work they’re doing,” he said. “We had soldiers who were doing road-clearing in the night; they’d come in at 3 a.m. and we’d talk to them.”
Sherman, 51, believes his armed forces experience has made him a better lawyer. He said JAG work has helped him to be more responsive to clients. “I actually think that being a JAG officer makes me a better corporate lawyer and vice versa,” he said. “Even though I don’t do corporate transactions in the Army, the core skills and the core priorities remain the same — clients are at the heart of what we do and we need to have relentless client focus.”
Sherman is convinced that associates at his firm have also benefited from his service as an Army lawyer. “I think that I’ve been able to use some of those skills in training junior officers [with] with my junior associates,” he said. “In the military, whenever we do any type of training, we do something called an after-action review. What we really do is, we say, ‘what three things, for example, went well in that training and what three things do we need to improve?’ We do that as a matter of course in the military and that’s something that I’ve tried to transfer over to the law firm.”
In the law firm environment, the focus might be on a capital markets deal instead. “It’s a great way to improve as an organization. We’re not casting blame. We’re trying to improve as a team. I have found that to be a really useful technique to build collaboration and to be a learning organization.”
Sherman took pains to acknowledge the encouragement of his colleagues at the Faegre firm, pointing out he could not do his military duty without having it on his side. “They have been unbelievably supportive throughout the past 18 years that I have been in the military.” He lavished praise on his military mentor, Wheeler Trigg partner Andrew Efaw. “He took me under his wing when I was a baby army officer and, as much as anything, made me love the Army and showed me how it could be a positive force in my life. Someone like that taking you personally under their wing, that can make all the difference in whether you have just an O.K. military career or an extraordinary, or at least extraordinarily fulfilling career, that I’ve had.”
Sherman knows that he could never have made his Army career work, let alone serve overseas, without the help of his wife, Teresa Sherman. “God bless her, she took care of and ran the family and I was able to focus on the work over there,” he said. Teresa Sherman, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney and permanent clerk to a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Denver, was a stay-home mom to the couple’s kids, now 22 and 18.
For him, one of the most rewarding aspects of military service has been the feeling of pride that he carries. “This may sound sappy, but when I put on that uniform, I think ‘this is the same Army that ended slavery in the United States, this is the same Army that freed the concentration camps, this is the same army that kept Soviet aggression at bay,’” he said. “I feel very, very proud to follow in those heroes’ footsteps.”
Lt. J.D. Lavallee, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
New England is home to J.D. Lavallee and close to his heart, but his interest in environmental law drew him to the University of Colorado’s law school. He also anticipated that he’d recognize a little bit of his native region when he got to Boulder. “As a New Englander and a good Yankee, I did have my suspicion that there’s no greater place to be than New England,” he said. “At the same time, being a young man, I also wanted to explore and see a little bit more of the country. I do believe that Colorado and its ethos matches up very well with New Hampshire.” Once here, his interest in environmental law led him to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Lavallee first approached the Navy, whereupon he learned that he might not find the variety of legal matters he was searching for. “I will always give the Navy credit because the petty officer I spoke with and the lieutenant JAG that I spoke with said, ‘Well, you know, we don’t do much environmental law and, if we are doing that, it’s usually to justify killing a whale or running a sonar or something else,’ he said. “They were the ones that actually said, ‘Have you ever thought about the Coast Guard?’”
Lavallee went to the only Coast Guard recruiting office on the Front Range and soon confirmed that the nation’s only armed force housed outside the Pentagon did, in fact, seem like the place for him. “It’s military, but it’s multi-mission, and it’s focused on the maritime environment and that checked a lot of boxes for me. We have this humanitarian and regulatory aspect that other military branches don’t have.”
After earning his law degree in 2013 and being commissioned a lieutenant junior grade, Lavallee went to the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island and then commenced active duty in Boston. There, he provided counsel to other Coast Guard officers in charge of ships and facilities on the Atlantic seaboard. “I was advising the cutters and shoreside command, up and down the coast from the Canada-Maine border down to New Jersey,” he said.
He also encountered Coasties that ran afoul of military law. Lavallee remembered one particular criminal case that, he thinks, may be completely unique. “The Coast Guard is full of wonderful people, but I did deal with an enlisted individual who pilfered a painting from a gentleman’s club,” he said. “That was a fun case to handle.”
It has been his curiosity about and fascination with administrative law that has proven particularly satisfying for Lavallee. During his time on active duty he has advised commanders on everything from whether to seize a sinking ship to whether to close the entrance to a major river. “The Merrimack River, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, there’s quite a bar right there and it’s quite turbulent,” he explained. “For mariners, it’s a tricky situation to get into the mouth of that river. We had a big winter storm coming. I remember working through the night with the local command, trying to figure out the best way that we can message to the public, to the mariners, that this river is dangerous and closed.”
Lavallee pointed to work that he did to preserve lighthouses as a highlight of his active duty service in the Coast Guard. “A fair amount of these historic, beautiful, awe-inspiring structures were languishing,” he said. “I’m shocked by the number of people that are willing to pour their personal resources into upkeep and beautification of these buildings. We, the Coast Guard, still maintain an easement to make sure that beacon is operating for the mariner, but it’s amazing that someone really wants to take care of that keeper’s house, which isn’t serving a government function anymore. It’s meaningful to the American public.”
Now 33, Lavallee transitioned to the Coast Guard Reserve in 2017 in order to return home to New Hampshire. For now, he is serving in a non-lawyer capacity. “Like the Marine Corps, but unlike the other branches, Coasties are line officers,” he said. He said he works with a crew of 10 enlisted personnel who are trained to respond to pollution and help regulate the marine environment, whether that’s doing checks for shoreside facilities or making sure that marine terminals that handle containers are doing the proper protocols for security. “We make sure that energy facilities are doing oil transfers correctly, so that none of the oil is getting into the marine environment.”
He was commissioned again when he returned to his home state, this time as an assistant attorney general handling environmental matters, and settled down with his wife near Concord. His love of public service has not dimmed. “I was raised in this great Granite State, and I can’t think of a better place to serve the public outside of the Coast Guard,” Lavallee explained. “I will say, being commissioned and having to raise your hand and swear an oath, both to the federal constitution and the state constitution, that is a tremendously impactful moment. I have both my Coast Guard commission and my New Hampshire commission in my office here. You can have a frustrating day, but it’s always nice to see that folks are placing trust and confidence in your capabilities and to have earned a commission. It’s something that I strive to live up to.”
Nor has Lavallee’s conviction that his Coast Guard service has made him a much better lawyer wavered. “As a junior officer, the leadership training you get is transferable across professions,” he said. “There’s probably a fair amount of people who think lawyers make bad managers. I think lawyers just need more training as managers. In your career in the Coast Guard or, probably, other services, you get that kind of training.” Asked whether he’d recommend that a young lawyer join the country’s oldest sea service, Lavallee enthusiastically said he would but suggested that the words of Alexander Hamilton, in a 1791 letter to officers of the infant nation’s revenue cutter commanders, be kept in mind. The officers, Hamilton wrote, should remember that “deportment may be marked with prudence, moderation and good temper.” Lavallee said that, to him, the words are a reminder that the Coast Guard is a “great opportunity to care about your fellow citizen.”
LtCol David Segraves, U.S. Marine Corps
Dave Segraves is not from Colorado. But since he married his wife Britnye, a Colorado girl, he has thought of the state as home. The link to Colorado touches the gridiron, too: his oldest son, 16, lives in Denver and is a football player at Mullen High School. Segraves, 42 on Oct. 22 and a Marine lawyer, is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. Though he has been a USMC Judge Advocate since 2006, he thinks of himself as an officer of Marines first and foremost. ““If they need you to, you can take charge of a platoon,” he said.
Segraves knew he wanted to be a Marine officer and Judge Advocate even before he graduated from law school. He was inspired to serve by a trip to Israel during his college years at Wichita State University. There, he studied economics and politics. He also learned something about love of country. ““When I was there, visiting with them, seeing the ownership they have of their country and the patriotism, it was pretty inspiring,” he said. After finishing his first year of law school at Boston University in 2004, Segraves headed to Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
“Once you go through that, then you go through a full six months of the Basic School, also in Quantico, to build that camaraderie of all Marine officers,” he explained. There, Segraves learned tactical combat skills and practiced the art of leadership. “We as lawyers, we’re very analytical,” he said. “We go super deep into everything. One of the things that you have to learn about tactics and the battlefield is that it’s reactionary. You have to be able to learn how to think even more quickly than in a courtroom. Learning to lead your peers is exceptionally difficult. Learning how to lead, influence, accomplish the mission — it’s a good skill set.”
Since then, his experiences have taken him from the courtroom to command. He began his career on active duty at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. He described this phase of his career as a prompt immersion in the duties of a military prosecutor. “We joke that you can hit the fleet and then someone drops a load of files on your desk and says, ‘prosecute these cases,’” Segraves said. “That’s an oversimplification, but the way I grew up in the Corps, we had to sink or swim.”
He then headed to New Orleans, where he switched sides and became a defense lawyer. “I defended enlisted Marines and sailors and officers in courts martial, administrative separation boards, [and] boards of inquiry for officers, and [I] provided advice when service members were going to be questioned by law enforcement (Article 31b advice),” he explained via email.
In 2013, Segraves’ career as a Marine took him overseas for the first time. In Germany, he was assigned to train and advise troops from the Eurasian country of Georgia and then to command advice duty in the Middle East with the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing and the 4th Marine Logistics Unit, part of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve. He later shifted to the supervising organization, the 4th Marine Division, and worked, too, with Marines assigned to 4th Marine Forces North.
After qualifying as a Marine Air-Ground Task Force Officer, Segraves’ assignments took him to sea; he excitedly described a 2018 tour, with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Pendleton. He visited Singapore, stopped at Kota and Kinabulua in Malaysia, did training in Djibouti, paused in Israel, the UAE, Dubai and Bahrain, and all along had an operational role on a team spread among vessels in the Navy’s 3rd, 5th and 7th Fleets. “I stepped up as a staff officer, stepped up as an XO,” he recalled. “When they say you’re a real MAGTF officer, they’re saying you get it. You’re an outstanding officer of Marines, you’re not just an attorney in uniform.”
Segraves’ current assignment is as officer in charge of the legal support office at MCAS Cherry Point. There, he said, his job is akin to being “the head of the law firm.” Segraves is the senior trial counsel, commanding more junior lawyers who are handling discipline and criminal matters. He also has responsibility for overseeing the facilities and the lawyers who provide legal assistance to Marines. Because Judge Advocates who are assigned to defense work and to counsel victims cannot be directly supervised by the same officers who direct prosecutors, he has administrative command over those officers. “I’m looking out for everyone else,” he explained. “I’m making sure that we’re prosecuting cases in a timely fashion. I’m looking at personnel, budget stuff.”
It was his time as a battalion Judge Advocate with the 3rd Marine Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan to be the highlight of his career. Tasked with supplying command advice, he worked with commanders in the regiment’s aircraft wing and logistics unit and, later, the division. “I would have done that job forever,” Segraves said. “My CO had a box, an area of influence command, the size of Connecticut. We were responsible for areas around whole towns. Your job is making sure that we’re making the right calls, doing the right things. We directly influenced battle. Being right there with the Marines, right in the thick of things, that was the best.”
In between his varied and adventure-filled assignments Segraves has earned two LL.M. degrees — one in taxation and one in international and operational law — from his law school alma mater and The Army Judge Advocate General’s Law Center and School in Charlottesville. Now a lieutenant colonel, which makes him a senior officer, Segraves considers the wellbeing of the Marines under him and their families to be a high priority. He said he’d urge a young person considering service as a Marine officer, whether Judge Advocate or not, to consider that they’ll be taking on a daunting ambition. “The Marines, you get the challenge,” he said. “This isn’t just a flight of fancy. You better want to be a Marine. We’re not here to promise you anything other than being part of the best fighting force in the world.” As for him, even after 18 years the thrill of being a Devil Dog has not lessened. “Once you’ve been around Marines, it’s hard not to want to be one.”
— Hank Lacey