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How To Become a Judge – Everything You Need To Know

How To Become a Judge – Everything You Need To Know


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People who enter the legal profession often do so because they have a passion for the law. The criminal justice system can be very intriguing and allows a person to take on new challenges at every turn. While many open a legal practice and begin to establish themselves as an attorney, there are others who begin to consider taking their careers a step further. Becoming any type of judge requires that an attorney follow a specific process.

Responsibilities of a Judge

Your responsibilities as a judge will depend mainly on what type of judge you become. In the United States, the primary goal of every judge is to uphold the law in accordance with the principles laid out in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. A judge must be able to render difficult legal decisions that will determine another person’s future. Learning about the responsibilities of being a judge means that you will have to learn about the different types of courts in the judicial branch. They include:

  • Supreme court
  • Federal court
  • Appellate court
  • State court
  • Circuit court
  • Superior court
  • Family court
  • District court
  • High court

Each of these courts deals with different types of cases. There are many more types of dealings other than civil cases and criminal cases.

Are There Different Types of Judgeships?

For as many types of courts, there are multiple types of judgeships. Obtaining your Juris doctor degree allows you to pursue a judgeship in a variety of court settings. The following lists detail the different types of judgeships and what area of the law a judge works in. Some judges are able to work in multiple types of courts.

Federal Judges

  • US Supreme Court Judge – Highest appellate court
  • Federal Circuit Court Judge – Appellate court judge
  • Federal Magistrate Judge – Pre-trial hearings/Post-trial hearings
  • Federal District Court Judge – Federal trial court
  • Federal Administrative Judge – Administrative courts
  • Specialty Court Judges – Specialty courts including eviction, bankruptcy, and immigration

State Judges

  • State Magistrate Judge – County courts and small claims
  • Municipal Court Judge – Municipal hearings and legal proceedings
  • Superior Court Judge – Trial court in a specific or general jurisdiction
  • Intermediate State Court Trial Judge – Limited jurisdiction; special trial courts
  • State Supreme Court Judge – Highest appellate court judge for an entire state
  • State Appellate Court Judge – Limited jurisdiction, local court of appeals
  • Specialty Court Judge – Includes family and probate courts

Many of these positions are awarded by judicial appointment. Other positions are filled by candidates filing to run in a local election. If a judge is voted in, they will serve a specific number of years, while those who are appointed will gain tenure. This means they will remain in the position until they die or retire. Judicial appointments must be reviewed by a judicial appointments commission before the judge can take their position.

Education Requirements

The first step in the educational process is to obtain a high school diploma. There are many different law and criminal justice degree programs you can choose from when you first enroll in college. The degree program you start with must have the approval of the American Bar Association. Once you have passed the bar exam, many states require that you practice law for a few years before applying for a judgeship.

There are several states, including Nevada and New York, where practicing law is not mandatory before becoming a judge. When it comes to education, obtaining a law degree known as a Juris doctorate is an important part of becoming a knowledgeable and informed judge.

The Step By Step Process

There are many steps in the process of becoming a judge. It is a slow and methodical process that will take time to complete. When it comes to college, you don’t just enroll in a law degree program. Your first step is to pass an LSAT test (Law School Admissions Test). In order to enroll, you must carry at least a 3.0 GPA and also score 165 or higher on the LSAT. Higher scores and GPAs will open the door to better colleges and more degree options. Schools limit the number of law students each year. The higher your numbers, the better your chances of acceptance. You will also need letters of recommendation and a statement from the student declaring their intent.

Law School

It will take three years (at least) to earn the Juris Doctor degree needed to become a judge. This is in addition to other legal degrees that are needed to pass the bar exam. Law schools have started to offer accelerated degree programs that can shave up to a year off of the time a student must spend earning their degree. Accelerated degrees have fewer lessons, but each lesson is more complex and contains more information than other lessons in longer degree programs.

Taking the Bar Exam

Once a student graduates, they can apply to sit for their state’s bar exam. Each state has their own exam. This means if you take the bar exam in Illinois, you may not be able to practice law or act as a judge in Wisconsin or Indiana. You must take, and successfully pass, the bar exam in the state in which you plan to open your legal practice.

In order to become a judge, you will have to pass other tests as well. This includes an ethics exam known as the Uniform Bar Exam. You must also pass a Multistate Essay Exam. Both of these tests focus on law procedures in all types of courts at the state and federal levels.

Experience Needed to Become a Judge

In order to be an effective judge, it’s important to have at least a modest amount of experience as a practicing lawyer. In most states, a judicial candidate is believed to be more effective if they have worked within the courts either as a prosecutor or a defense attorney. As a practicing attorney, you are able to see challenges and look at the evidence from a new, more focused, perspective. Always strive to learn as much as you can and try to take on new challenges whenever possible.

Obtaining a Judgeship

Becoming a judge is not an easy or short-term process. It takes time and considerable effort to become a judicial candidate. Most people fail to receive a judgeship the first time they apply. One of the things that improves a candidate’s odds is to obtain a recommendation from a reputable attorney or legal organization in your area. If a candidate is running for an elected judgeship, it is important that they have an honorable and verifiable track record when it comes to their legal track record.

An applicant for a judicial position must also send their application to their state’s Bar Association. The organization will do an extensive review of the applicant and their potential to be a reputable and effective judge.

Potential Salary and Job Outlook

The potential salary of a judge working in the United States judicial system will range between $55,000 and $166,000 per year. The actual salary of a judge will depend on several factors, including the following:

  • Years of experience as a lawyer
  • Years of experience as a judge
  • Education
  • Location of the court
  • Type of court
  • Recommendations and reviews of peers

One of the biggest factors is the location of the court. A court in a small community will not be able to pay a large sum of money to any public servant. Larger metropolitan areas, however, will be able to pay a much larger amount. Attorneys who fill in as a temporary judge for their community will normally receive separate payments from the state or community for their service.

Becoming a judge is not a decision to be taken lightly. Every decision a judge makes changes the life of the person in front of them. For good or bad, the ruling that is made will have a long-reaching impact. Being able to look at the evidence in an impartial manner is essentially part and parcel of what is required to be effective and successful as a judge in a court of law. A judge must know and understand as much of the law as possible. Continually taking advantage of opportunities to learn as much as they can about each case and the laws that surround them. It is not an easy path to pursue, but it is one that can be quite rewarding.

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