Becoming a Judge

Why would someone become a judge?


Socrates says that a judge has four duties: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially.  Obviously, being a judge is a high calling.  Judges provide a valuable public service in upholding the law and vindicating the rights of citizens.  Judges also garner respect reserved for few other people.


What type of people are great judges?

A person will do well as a judge if she is able to look at situations objectively—free of prejudice, bias, and special interest.  To be truly affective, she must also be a person of great professional and personal integrity.  She must be fair, open-minded, and known for sound judgment.  Good listening skills and a firm hand are also a must.


What does it take to become a judge?

Someone who wants to be a judge must first become a lawyer. That person must have received a law degree, passed the bar examination in his or her own state, and then practiced law. Some judges are appointed, others are elected. Depending on the court, a person may have to run for a spot on the bench. These elections are funded by local political parties, since judges usually run as either Democrats or Republicans, as well as state or county election commissions and private donors. There is some controversy over judicial elections, with some people saying that it’s too easy for the process to be influenced by special interest groups who fund a judge’s campaign.

Once elected or appointed to a judgeship, training classes and continuing education are required.


Where can you work?

Judges are found at the federal, state, and local levels.  Every community needs judges, so the question comes down to whether or not there is an opening on the bench where you wish to serve.  Judges can be found in big cities, small towns, even rural areas.


Benefits of being a judge

Judgeships are prestigious and lucrative.  Most salaried judges receive insurance benefits (health, life, and dental), sick leave, and a pension upon retirement.  Judges also have judicial immunity protection, meaning they cannot be sued for official conduct. Judges are usually highly respected within their communities, since people expect them to be wise, fair, and thoughtful, and usually experience them that way.


Undesirable aspects of the job

Judges can put in very long hours, working over 50 hours a week in some instances.  They can also spend long hours hearing a case, sitting in the same position, without a recess.  Perhaps least desirable of all is the competition for the few available jobs.  It’s difficult to break into a judgeship, and turnover is very low. Judges are usually highly respected, but when a case does not go the way someone hoped, judges’ impartiality, competence, or judgment are often called into question.


Salary Forecast

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average judge made $100,450 in 2008.  Obviously, county courts will pay less, though some federal courts will pay more.  The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, earns a little over $200,000 a year.


Job Availability

This same bureau reports that employment of judges at all levels is expected to increase slower than the national average through 2018.


Any other jobs you can get with these credentials?

Someone with these credentials can also find work as an arbitrator, mediator, or conciliator.  Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators assist with settling disputes in private settings, outside of a formal courtroom.


Career Planning: How to Become a Judge

Employment by industry, occupation, and percent distribution, 2008 and projected 2018

Judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers

Interested in becoming a judge? Start with a law degree and be on your way to this lofty career!

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