How to Become a Judge
Judges preside over legal proceedings such as hearings and trials. Lawyers argue their cases in front of a judge, and the judge makes sure each side follows the rules of the courtroom and meets standards set by the law. In certain types of cases, judges hear evidence from both sides and come to a ruling on their own. In other cases, judges give a jury instructions so that they can come to a ruling.
There are many different types of cases judges can preside over. Some may preside over civil cases such as small claims, family law, juvenile, probate, or contract cases. Some preside over criminal hearings and trials, while others hear challenges to state and federal laws and determine whether or not those laws violate the state or federal constitution. Judges may be appointed to their posts by government officials, or they may win their posts in elections. Some judges have a limited term of service, while others hold their positions for life.
What kind of training is required to become a judge?
In most cases, judges are lawyers who have several years of experience practicing law. To become a lawyer, one must complete a three-year Juris Doctor (JD) program after earning a bachelor’s degree. After completing law school, JD graduates must pass their state’s bar exam, an accomplishment that requires months of preparation and study.
Lawyers may work for the public in a government agency or prosecutor’s office, represent clients in a law practice, or provide legal consultation to individuals and organizations. New lawyers start in entry-level associate positions and put in many hours of work to advance to higher positions within their firm or office. While they are working, lawyers also complete continuing education to become more familiar with certain areas of the law.
Lawyers who want to become judges may be more likely to earn appointments or be elected to positions if their experience includes a large amount of time spent at trial.
Are there any certification or licensure requirements?
Each state sets requirements for the qualifications of judges in different types of courts. While judges do not have to obtain a separate license, in most cases, they must be practicing lawyers, which means they are currently licensed by their state to practice law. They typically must also be residents of the area in which they will be serving, and registered to vote as well.
Some types of judgeships require more experience than others. In Texas, for example, a county criminal court judge must be at least 25 years old and have 4 years of experience practicing law, but a criminal appeals court judge must be at least 35 years old and have 10 years of experience as a lawyer or judge. Many states also set a maximum age for judges, and when judges reach this age they must retire.
How long does it take to become a judge?
Most lawyers take seven years to complete the education required to become a lawyer, and it may take additional time to pass the state bar exam. The type of judgeship one is pursuing will affect the length of time it takes to become a judge. Most positions require several years of experience, but some require none.
What does a judge earn?
The median yearly pay for judges and magistrate judges in the United States was $115,760 in 2012. Administrative law judges and adjudicators had a lower median salary of $87,240 that year.
What are the job prospects?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of judges in the United States will remain steady between 2012 and 2020. Openings will be available as judges’ terms end or they retire, but few new positions are expected to be created.
What are the long term career prospects for judges?
Judges who want to move beyond their current position can seek positions on higher courts with greater jurisdiction such as appeals courts and beyond.
Some judges continue to maintain their own law practice and may return to it after some time, while others may choose to go into law education.
How can I find a job as a judge?
Judges get their jobs through either election or appointment. Running for election as a judge typically requires registering for a political party, raising money, and running a campaign. You can increase your chances of winning by maintaining a high profile in your community and making political connections by helping to raise money or volunteer in the campaigns of other candidates in your party.
Earning an appointment to a judicial position often involves making community connections as well. Attorneys and judges can apply for these positions, and the government official who makes the appointment will typically seek the recommendation of a judicial selection committee. Local and state bar associations may also poll their membership to evaluate judicial candidates and make recommendations. Building a positive reputation in your community and with your colleagues can help you earn a recommendation and possibly an appointment.
How can I learn more about becoming a judge?
You can learn more about the requirements for becoming a lawyer and a judge through your state’s bar association website. Since judicial requirements can vary by state, it may help to check what standards your own state has set. States often make this information available through the website of their judicial branch of the office of the governor.