Emily Bobenrieth, a prosecutor for the U.S. Army stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, attended Colorado Law after being selected for the Army’s Funded Legal Education Program. Although she had never set foot in Colorado prior to visiting the law school, it immediately felt like home. In many ways, Bobenrieth was drawn to Colorado Law and the Army for the same reasons: she wanted to contribute to society, be part of a team, and serve a cause bigger than herself.
Where are you from and why did you decide to attend law school?
I am originally from Potomac, Maryland. I attended undergrad at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and commissioned as an active duty Army officer in May 2011. After serving for two years as a platoon leader in the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I applied for the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP). FLEP is a program in which the Army chooses 25 active duty army officers a year to attend law school and transfer from their basic branch of assignment to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC, or JAG Corps). I knew that I wanted to be an Army attorney since my time at West Point, and so I applied to FLEP the first chance I could. I was fortunate enough to be selected in December 2012. Once selected I had the opportunity to apply to and attend the law school of my choice.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I am currently a prosecutor for the United States Army stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Washington. I am assigned to a litigation team composed of three other attorneys. Our job is to prosecute all non-sexual assault offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice committed by service members assigned to JBLM. JBLM is the busiest jurisdiction in the U.S. Army—we try more courts-martial than anywhere else in the Army. I review cases and advise on the disposition of criminal allegations against soldiers to commanders at all levels across the installation, as well as prepare for and try cases that result in court-martial. In the past 12 months, I have been assigned the lead prosecutor on 16 cases, 13 of which resulted in a court-martial.
A “typical” day for me really depends on the day. If I am not in court, every morning starts with physical training at 6:30 a.m., meaning the whole office meets and works out together before the actual duty day starts. Once in the office at 9 a.m., I do whatever I need to move my cases: witness interviews, motions writing, investigative work, briefing commanders or supervisors, or doing other trial prep work. My days usually end between 1800 and 2000 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.), depending on how busy I am. My caseload almost always requires me to work about one day every weekend as well.
It is important to note that the unique thing about the JAG Corps is that I change jobs about every one to two years, therefore gaining a wide range of experience. For example, prior to being a prosecutor, my position was Command Judge Advocate, meaning I was the embedded JAG for a brigade and was the sole adviser to the commander and all her subordinate commanders. I also have been assigned to operation law billets, in which I advised on targeting, the laws of war, and rules of engagement. I have been sent to courses that allow me to conduct collateral damage assessments when doing the proportionality legal analysis for combat missions. My next job will be advising on intelligence law on the East Coast. The JAGC allows you to constantly learn and gain new, unique skill sets.
How did you find your job?
My job was inherently built into the FLEP program, so I was a unique case where I did not have to actively seek my job after law school. But with that guarantee came an additional six years of service to the Army in exchange for the funding of my law education. So there is always a tradeoff of some kind!
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
Like I mentioned, my situation was unique in that my position as an Army Judge Advocate was inherently secured as a result of the FLEP program. However, the majority of the attorneys that make up the JAG Corps are people who apply directly out of law school and are commissioned into the Army as a JAG officer. Those interviews are conducted every year, usually on the law school’s campus, by a JAG selected to conduct said interviews and screen applicants. I know for a fact Colorado Law facilitates these interviews for the JAGC.
Even though I didn’t necessarily use or need to use the Career Development Office as much as a typical student, they were still always ready and willing to help me in other ways. I externed for the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office both my second and third year of law school. The Career Development Office took the time to review my resume and assist in any questions I had about the interview process for that opportunity.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
I use my critical thinking and issue-spotting skills every single day. Whenever I get a new case file, I start the analytical process. What are the facts? What do I still need to know? What charges support the facts? What are the weaknesses in my case? How will I overcome those hurdles? And then there is always the question of not necessarily what we CAN do, but what we, as the prosecution, SHOULD do. Meaning, what does justice look like in this case?
I also use my legal research skills regularly. In my jurisdiction, there is heavy motions practice. I therefore often find myself on Lexis Nexis weekly, doing case research to support my position. I took both trial advocacy and motions practice while at Colorado Law and it helped me to start the process of refining the way in which I present argument and prepare for my cases. Colorado Law did an incredible job of laying the groundwork for my current position.
Please talk a little about "people skills" and relationship building. How have your professional acquaintances (and friends) made a difference in your career?
The Army is a people-led organization. On top of being an attorney and criminal prosecutor, I am also an officer and therefore looked to as a leader. The Army is built on team and relationship building, so being able to be a team player is not only key in my job, but required. The friendships and professional relationships I have formed over the past four years as a JAG will last a lifetime.
The bedrock of the U.S. Army is selfless service—all of us joined because we wanted to contribute, to be a part of a team, and serve a cause that is bigger than ourselves. There is zero tolerance for those who will place themselves, their comfort, and their well-being above the needs of the mission or the needs of their soldiers. And that understanding and trust start with relationship building.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Of course, I cannot shed a ton of light on this experience given the nature of my path to law school and to the JAG Corps. But what I can say in seeing the experience of my law school classmates is to be proactive, build those relationships, and be genuine about it. Whether in the Army or not, people want to work with people who are passionate and who are team players.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
I found Colorado Law to be a place of acceptance. I found that to be the case throughout—from my fellow students to the professors to the administrators. The moment I visited CU before I even decided, it immediately felt like home. The smaller class sizes compared to other law schools, especially East Coast schools, also allowed for a more personal experience. I felt like I knew my professors and they knew me. I chose CU because it reminded me of that mentality I talked about in question six, that there was a desire to serve, to help one another, and to build those relationships. I knew that CU was the right choice for me.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
As I mentioned before, I am originally from the East Coast. So, when I was applying to law schools, I mainly focused on East Coast schools. However, I received a letter from the Colorado Law admissions office shortly after my acceptance to the FLEP program encouraging me to apply. I knew no one in Colorado, and I had no connections to the state. In fact, I had never set foot in Colorado until I visited the law school in the winter of 2013. But, as soon as I got here, and for all the reasons mentioned above, I knew CU was the right fit for me. And I left law school with incredible friends who I very much consider my family.
See more in our Promising Starts series, which highlights recent Colorado Law alumni who have found satisfying, meaningful employment in their first five years after graduation.