How to Become a Judge
Do you dream of working your way up the legal career ladder to become a Judge? If so, this guide will walk you through the steps to get there and help you decide if it’s the career for you.
What Does a Judge Do?
A Judge oversees the legal process in a court of law, ensuring that the law is administered fairly and issuing legal decisions on cases. Judges are always employed by the state or federal government, and work in courts ranging from a local traffic court to the Supreme Court of the United States. Judges can be either appointed or elected, depending on their position.
In the role of overseer of the legal process in courts, Judges have many responsibilities. Their primary duty is to preside over trials and hearings of cases, weighing the evidence and determining how a trial will proceed. Their responsibility is to ensure that hearings and trials are conducted fairly and legally. Some common Judge duties and responsibilities include:
- In order to be well informed on legal precedence in their cases and make an educated ruling, Judges must regularly conduct research.
- Preside over hearings. Judges must listen to and read all arguments by opposing parties in a hearing, to make sure that it is conducted fairly, and determine if the information being presented is accurate and relevant.
- Decide the Outcome of Cases. In some cases, Judges are authorized to decide the outcome of the case, and impose sentences or penalties. They use their own judgment and interpretation of the law to reach a fair determination.
- Direct Juries. In other trials where juries decide the case, the Judge instructs and directs the considerations of the jurors.
- Judges are often required to write out their decisions or opinions regarding the disputes or cases over which they preside.
The position of Judge is prestigious and highly respected. The job requires, above all, a person with strong decision making skills. Judges need to have exceptional critical thinking and logic abilities, to be able to examine all sides of an issue fairly. Judges also need to have excellent listening and reading skills, to allow them to take in large amounts of information and understand the important facts. As well, they also need to be strong speakers and writers, to present their decisions and opinions to the court.
Other key Judge skills include:
- Legal research skills
- Knowledge of legal principles and their application
- Case management skills
How Do You Become a Judge?
Education and Training
Most aspiring Judges begin their career as a Lawyer. For this, they must first attend a law school and obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Afterwards, they must pass the bar exam in their state to begin practicing law. Once they building up a solid background working as an attorney, the lawyer may be eligible to become a Judge.
Judges are either appointed or elected. For an open Judgeship, Lawyers may apply by submitting their names for consideration to a judicial nominating commission, or a senator or other politician may recommend them. In most cases, a nomination for a judgeship requires a good career and political support.
After being elected or appointed, some states or federal positions require Judges to complete specialized training. Federal administrative law judges must also pass a competitive exam given by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. While some federal judges are appointed to life-long terms, other federal, state or local judges are hired for fixed or renewable terms of office.
Finding a job
Because almost all new Judge positions must be approved by a legislature, the number of positions available sees very little change over time. A budgetary constraints limit legislatures’ abilities to create new Judge positions or fill existing opening, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job outlook for Judges to remain steady for the next decade. Job openings will mainly become available when existing Judges retire or their elected term finished. The job is a prestigious one, and there will always be high competition for the few available openings.
A successful Judge candidate will need a high-quality resume that highlights their skills and experience. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at our library of Judge resume samples.
After crafting a strong resume, search online for Judge job opportunities. In your search for openings, be sure to leverage your professional network, including people you met through education and your career.
When applying (or running) for the position of Judge, a well-written cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications will help you out immensely. For some cover letter ideas, check out our collection of cover letter samples.
How Much Do Judges Get Paid?
Judges are paid a yearly salary, with the median hourly salary in the United States being $90,600. The lowest-paid Judges make about $40,270, while the highest-paid can earn more than $158,700 a year.
Top 10 States for Judge Salary
Judges in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.
- Connecticut: $87.31
- California: $85.15
- New Jersey: $80.23
- Nevada: $79.88
- Alaska: $78.75
- Maryland: $75.09
- New York: $73.21
- Colorado: $67.58
- Florida: $67.48
- North Dakota: $65.95
For more information on how to become and excel as a Judge, we put together this list of helpful resources.
On the Web
www.askthejudge.info – This website, geared towards teens, answers common and not so common questions about law and law careers.
Mimesis Law – This blog covers all things law, including some posts by current and former Judges.
American Judges Association (AJA) – This national association of Judges provides relevant news, a blog, and links to handy resources.
American Bar Association – If you’re going to be a Judge, you’re most likely to be a lawyer first; the ABA provides lots of helpful information on how you can get there.
Judge, Magistrate Judge, & Magistrate Career (Special Edition): The Insider’s Guide to Finding a Job at an Amazing Firm, Acing The Interview & Getting Promoted – A guide for anyone interested in learning more about what it takes to become a Judge, and what the job entails.
ALJ Writing Guide: Application Writing and Test Preparation for Federal Administrative Law Judge Candidates – This guide will help any Judge candidate prepare for the all-important test.