A military service member facing charges that were preferred to a court-martial are routinely informed by the Military Judge that they are entitled to the free, JAG defense lawyer that has been detailed to him or her at no expense to the Government. This is the military JAG who was randomly selected to represent you for free throughout your court-martial. The JAG is generally an O-3 in whichever branch you are in. For many free, JAG defense counsel, your case may be their very first case or trial that they have ever represented a client on. Some have been defense counsel in their assignment for longer, so the JAG defense counsel may have more experience, which is still considered minimal compared to many veteran civilian defense counsel ("CDC") who were former JAGs but now specializing in military court-martial defense
Therefore, a free, military defense counsel is one of your options when you are facing charges that you expect to go to trial. Another option is to be represented by a civilian defense counsel who are typically former JAGs. At your arraignment before a Military Judge, you will be informed that you can also choose to be represented by a civilian counsel of your choice but "at no expense to the Government". Unlike, the free, detailed JAG, a civilian defense counsel whom you choose to represent you must be paid for out of pocket. You will pay for the civilian defense counsel's representation and time. You will frequently pay for the civilian defense counsel's expenses as well, to include travel and lodging, if necessary.
Despite the personal expenses, retaining a civilian defense counsel to represent you in your court-martial can be very beneficial. The clearest benefit to you is that your lawyer representing you for possibly very serious offenses will likely have far superior courtroom experience compared to the free, detailed JAG. This courtroom experience, and much longer years of interacting with JAG prosecutors and dealing with the types of issues that arise during a court-martial are factors that can save your career and keep you out of confinement. When looking for the best military court-martial lawyer to hire, look to that person's years of experience and their overall court results in determining whether or not the court-martial lawyer is worth retaining to represent you.