Hearing Officer: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for hearing officers. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Public Administration degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Hearing Officer?

Hearing officers, i.e. administrative law judges, settle claims on administrative matters for the state or federal government. They ensure the law is upheld fairly in government-related cases, such as those related to hiring discrimination, Social Security, disability benefits, etc., basing decisions off legal precedents, laws, regulations, policies, and their own knowledge and research of how the legal system works. There are many factors in determining the outcome of a case, meaning actively listening to each side and thinking critically about a solution is important during each hearing.

See the table below for an overview of the education requirements, responsibilities, and other job statistics for hearing officers.

Degree Requirements Juris Doctor in most states
Licensure Must be a licensed attorney
Key Responsibilities Make judgments on Social Security eligibility and employment discrimination claims, review evidence to resolve disputes about claims, and ensure hearings and trials are conducted fairly
Job Growth (2014-2024)* -1% (for judges and hearing officers)
Median Salary (2015)* $90,600 (for administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Hearing Officer Do?

Hearing officers, also called administrative law judges (ALJs) or adjudicators, preside over hearings and make decisions on government-related administrative claims. This includes making judgments pertaining to Social Security benefit eligibility and employment discrimination claims. As an ALJ, you are responsible for ensuring that hearings and trials are conducted fairly. You review evidence and documents to resolve a dispute about a claim according to the applicable policies, laws, regulations, and legal precedent.

What Education Do I Need?

Some states may require a minimum of a bachelor's degree and work experience to become a hearing officer. However, you may increase your employment opportunities by attending law school and earning a Juris Doctor (J.D.). Law school requires three years of study in subjects like constitutional law, criminal law, property law and contract law. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), federal hearing officers must have a J.D. (www.opm.gov).

Are There Licensure and Examination Requirements?

According to the OPM, to work as a federal ALJ, you must be licensed as an attorney in any U.S. state, territory or the District of Columbia. Some, but not all, state-level ALJ positions may also require that you be a licensed attorney. While the requirements to become a licensed attorney differ in each state, in general you must be a graduate of a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and pass a bar examination.

Additionally, to work as a federal ALJ, you must pass an examination given by the OPM. To sit for this exam, you must have at least seven years of litigation or administrative law experience. You will also be required to provide a record of accomplishment and be interviewed as part of the hiring process.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, in 2015, there were 14,590 ALJs in the nation who earned a median salary of $90,600 (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, employment opportunities for judges and hearing officers are expected to decrease 1% from 2014-2024.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Lawyers work with their clients during court cases to provide evidence and argue their side of an issue, using their knowledge of the law and complex legal precedents and information to help them win. Judges are similar to hearing officers, though they preside over and make decisions for domestic issues and those not involving the proceedings of government. Both of these careers typically require doctorate degrees.

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