Judge: Career Profile, Job Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become a judge. Learn about degree requirements, job outlook, licensure and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Judge?

To become a judge, you must be a lawyer in good standing and able to be impartial and separate fact from opinion. Judges oversee the legal process in courts of law. This involves holding pretrial hearings, resolving conflicts, facilitating negotiations and delivering legal decisions. To perform these duties, judges will research legal issues, examine court documents and records and listen to arguments and testimonies. Judges base their decisions on current rules and laws, and often must present their findings in a written opinion or decision. They also approve various kinds of warrants, set conditions for a prisoner's release and instruct jurors. Learn about the job outlook and educational requirements for judges.

Degree Required Juris Doctor degree
Key Skills Critical thinking, writing, organization, decision-making
Licensure Pass the state bar exam (required to become a lawyer)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 1% (for judges, magistrate judges and magistrates)
Average Salary (2015)* $116,100 (for judges, magistrate judges and magistrates)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is the Career Profile for Judges?

Judges are appointed or elected officials who oversee court proceedings during criminal and civil trials and hearings. In this position, you ensure that procedural rules and standards are adhered to and the rules of conduct are followed by lawyers, court personnel and litigants. You also determine the credibility of witnesses. When overseeing civil cases, you may award monetary damages to the prevailing parties. In criminal cases, you hand down jail sentences and impose fines in accordance with government regulations.

You may also advise juries as to laws, give rulings as to whether or not evidence is admissible in court and make decisions regarding which cases will go to trial. Part of the job also involves researching legal precedents and overseeing clerical and administrative workers. You may divide your time between the courtroom, legal libraries and your office. It isn't unusual for a work week to be upwards of 50 hours.

What Is the Job Outlook?

You may find employment with local, state and federal governments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for judges was expected to grow at a rate of only one percent through 2024 (www.bls.gov). The reason for slow growth is believed to be state and federal budget cuts, which were projected to occur despite rising crime rates and increasing caseloads. These issues, along with the fact that the prestige of judgeship draws many to the field, ensured there would be continued competition for those jobs.

It is believed, however, that there may be a growing need for judges due to the necessity of settling disputes, increasing numbers of immigrants and the need for policies and strategies to counteract elder abuse. Median annual salaries for judges and magistrate judges were approximately $126,930 in 2015, according to the BLS.

What Educational Requirements Must I Fulfill?

If you'd like to become a judge, you must obtain at least a bachelor's degree and some related work experience. However, the majority of judges were once lawyers. A law degree may be mandatory if your goal is to become a state or federal judge appointee. In addition, to work as a federal judge, you'll have to pass an examination given by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

To become a lawyer, you must hold a Juris Doctor (JD) law degree and pass your state's bar examination. Before law school, you need to complete a 4-year bachelor's degree program in any area. To qualify for most law schools, you must take and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Once in law school, curricula might include courses such as constitutional law, criminal law, property, contracts and legal ethics.

Due to the constantly changing and evolving nature of the law, you'll be required to remain informed of new developments regarding the interpretation of the law, and of new laws as they are passed. Most jurisdictions provide initial job training and continuing education courses for judges. Training may be provided through organizations such as the American Bar Association, the Federal Judicial Center and the National Center for State Courts.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A very similar career is that of a lawyer. Lawyers require a Juris Doctor degree as well. They will advise and represent various kinds of clients in a court of law to handle legal issues. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators are some other related options. These professionals only require a bachelor's degree. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators facilitate negotiations and help resolve conflict outside of the courts.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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