CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- For the past two years, 100 percent of the U.S. Army Japan Legal Assistance Office's Interactive Customer Evaluations have been positive.
This year the office received an additional honor--the Army Chief of Staff Award for Excellence in Legal Assistance for fiscal 2018.
Kent Herring, chief of the USARJ Legal Assistance Office, said the office mainly earned the award by providing high-quality legal services and looking beyond the Camp Zama gates to find ways to improve legal services on post.
For example, the office organized an event with their Navy and Air Force counterparts at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to learn about American citizen services, federal benefits, immigrant visas and more in May 2018, Herring said.
"That was one thing we hadn't done before," Herring said.
In addition, Herring took the Meiji University School of Law's two-week "Law in Japan" course in July 2018 and learned about a wide gamut of Japanese laws, including family and inheritance laws.
"It was good to hear from Japanese law school professors, who speak English, about how their system works and learn how we can help people better," Herring said.
The office also coordinated a "Tri-Service Legal Assistance" training event with Navy and Air Force legal personnel at Camp Zama in March 2018, according to the office's award application, and the meeting helped local military legal assistance offices understand their counterparts' programs, ask questions and share resources.
In addition, the office hosted a visit from five Japanese attorneys who shared how their "Legal Assistance for Foreigners Program" in Tokyo might be able to help with off-post issues, Herring said.
The office competed against Army legal offices around the world for the award, and as part of their application, Maj. Gen. Viet Luong, commander, U.S. Army Japan, submitted a letter endorsing their application.
"I am pleased to endorse U.S. Army Japan's Legal Assistance Office's application for the Army Chief of Staff Annual Award for Excellence in Legal Assistance," Luong wrote. "The Army Legal Assistance Program is a critical factor in the quality of life in this [outside the continental United States] community."
Luong also noted that John Simon, a civilian paralegal, received the U.S. Army Garrison Japan Employee of the Year award in February 2018.
This is the 18th time the office has won the award since 1990, according to the office's website.
When evaluating offices for the award, members of the Army Chief of Staff office consider the quality of services; innovations to provide better service; professional development of staff; and the quality of the office's preventive law program.
The Camp Zama preventive law program includes articles on 36 subjects that people can find on paper outside the office's doors or online on the office's website. The office also has a Facebook page where members of the office keep people informed.
The office staff includes two attorneys, including Herring, one local national employee, an Army civilian paralegal and an Army Soldier paralegal, and given the office's size, they compete in the competition's Small Office category. The Army Chief of Staff office announced May 31 that the USARJ Legal Assistance Office was among the winners.
The office's services include almost all services civilian attorneys offer, except representation in civilian court.
For example, the office often helps with powers of attorney, wills, family law, including divorce and adding a member to the family, Status of Forces Agreement issues, financial liability investigations, general office of reprimands and more, Herring said.
One limit that does come up with some regularity, however, is that the office cannot help people with employee management or Equal Employment Opportunity disputes, Herring said.
The office services active-duty military, retirees, reservists who are serving on orders, retired service members, Department of Defense civilians, civilian contractors who have legal services included in their contracts, and their family members, Herring said.
All services are free, Herring said, and rarely does the office have a legal issue it can't handle and must refer to an outside attorney.
Potential clients should know the office has a strict rule of confidentiality--just like civilian law firms--and that it's a good idea to drop off any paperwork before an appointment so the attorney can review it beforehand, Herring said.
The Tax Assistance Center is also part of the office, and Herring said he is proud of the work the office has done there.
In 2018, the center filed more than 300 federal and state tax returns, identified more than $600,000 in tax refunds and saved community members more than $70,000 in tax preparation fees, according to office statistics.