PROFILE: Col. Francis A. Gilligan

Left to right: Col. Francis A. Gilligan (fourth from left) with (from left to right) Brig. Gen. Paul Bontrager (son-in-law), Kelly Bontrager (daughter), Senior Judge Andrew Effron, Barbara Gilligan (wife), Cheryl Gilligan (daughter), Philip Natsios (son-in-law), Associate Dean Lisa M. Schenck, and then Interim Dean Gregory E. Maggs at a January ceremony recognizing his decades of federal service.

To say that Col. Francis Gilligan, U.S. Army (Ret.), LLM ’70, SJD ’76, is a dedicated man is something of an understatement. That is if his 57 years and counting of federal service are anything to go by.

Col. Gilligan’s long and storied active- duty military career began when he enlisted in 1957 at the age of 17 as a 40mm anti-aircraft gunner, and concluded in 1991 as the Army’s chief trial judge. Along the way were tours in Vietnam, Fort Campbell, and 11 other locations, and a demonstration of extraordinary leadership in every type of JAG position.

After graduating from Buffalo University School of Law, Col. Gilligan entered the JAG Corps, where he served as a trial counsel, defense counsel, chief of criminal law, and criminal law instructor. Recognized for his expertise in military justice, he continued his career as the chief of criminal law for the Office of the Judge Advocate General, chairman of the Joint Services Committee, and as a military judge for many years before becoming chief trial judge. 

After retiring from active duty, Col. Gilligan became senior legal adviser to Judge Susan Crawford of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Fifteen years later, he became the director of training for the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Military Commissions, where he continues to work today. 

Col. Gilligan’s many successes in promoting military justice are only one part of his illustrious career. During his years of active duty he taught a wide variety of legal subjects in locations around the world to diverse student bodies. A prolific author, he has written more than 15 books and 40 articles. 

Col. Gilligan’s contributions to GW Law’s academic program are just as impressive. First appointed as a professorial lecturer in law in 1990, he has taught courses in trial advocacy, advanced evidence, and comparative military law for a quarter century, becoming an integral part of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program along the way. At the May 2002 and 2005 GW Law Diploma Ceremonies, he was honored for excellence in teaching.

But Col. Gilligan’s history with GW Law reaches back even further than his long tenure as a member of the school’s adjunct faculty. In 1969, with his first tour winding down and his ROTC commitment fulfilled, he intended to follow his original career plan and return to his hometown of Dansville, N.Y., to practice law with his father. Instead of accepting his letter of resignation, the Army made him an offer: rescind his resignation, and the Army would fund his master’s degree at GW Law. He accepted.

Col. Gilligan agreed to answer a few questions for GW Law magazine about his distinguished career:

Q: What were some of your favorite assignments when you were on active duty?

A: It is difficult to name a favorite assignment, but the most memorable were probably my two assignments to Germany—one to Munich and the other to Wiesbaden—and my two tours at the JAG School in Charlottesville, Va.

Q: When did you start teaching? 

A: When I received orders for Vietnam, I called the University of Maryland, told them I was going to Vietnam, and asked if I could teach any courses in their overseas program. They agreed, and I taught business law while I was there.

My boss was Lt. Col. Patrick Tocher. We had only two vehicles in our SJA unit, a jeep and a truck, and since the two of us liked to go to dinner together, he would come to my class to pick me up. Pat enjoyed sitting in on the classes so he’d come early so he could sit through more than one. Pat, who was on a first- name basis with Major Gen. Lawrence Williams, wrote a letter to him saying, “You’ve got to get Gilligan to teach at the Judge Advocate General’s School.” 

Q: Teaching was virtually always a part of your time in the JAG Corps, but how did you come to teach at the law school?

A: I had a job to teach at Wake Forest Law School down in Winston-Salem. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and all retirements were frozen. At the same time Professor Stephen Saltzburg asked if I would come to the law school and teach trial advocacy.

Q: What would you tell GW Law students or young alumni considering a career in the military and/or government service? 

A: Public service is important. It truly impacts the lives of many, whether it be through consumer protection, domestic relations, or criminal trials. The JAG Corps is a great place to hone your skills.