How to Become a Judge
If you're interested in the field of law but aren't sure if being a lawyer is the perfect fit for you, don't worry! There are many opportunities in the legal field outside of being a lawyer. One career that is worth striving for is to become a judge. As a judge, you will be hearing cases, researching and reading legal documents, looking at evidence and listening to witnesses and lawyers, and ultimately deciding innocence or guilt. Judgeship is an interesting and challenging career that requires a lot of determination and strength of character in order to reap the rewards.
Steps to Become a Judge
1. Get your undergraduate degree
2. Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
3. Obtain your Juris Doctor Degree (J.D.)
4. Pass the bar exam
5. Gain experience in the legal field for 2+ years
6. Earn a Judgeship
7. Continue education
Requirements to Be a Judge
In order to become a judge, you must have plenty of experience in the legal field. Most judges spend many years clerking for legal firms and practicing law, either as a defense attorney or aprosecutor. Familiarizing yourself with many different types of legal practice is a good foundation for when you are sitting on the bench.
While you are gaining experience, keep in mind that you cannot simply become a judge on your own. Judges are either elected or appointed, depending on the district or location. This is important to know so you can work to build your reputation and form relationships with influential people, like politicians, who will be able to recommend or nominate you for a judgeship. You must have a strong, positive reputation and demonstrated experience with legal matters to be nominated.
In addition to the education requirements, which are outlined below, there are also some character traits you will need in order to be a fair and just judge. Respect is important to keep in mind as you work towards judgeship. Throughout your legal career, your ability to be respectful and demonstrate character traits like patience and dignity will be noticed and will help build your strength as a candidate for judgeship.
Judge Education Requirements
The path to becoming a judge is a long, difficult journey that requires a lot of studying and hard work. However, through patience and diligence - two qualities that make an excellent judge - it is achievable!
The first step is to get your undergraduate degree. Most colleges don't have a "law" major for undergraduates, so it's recommended that you major in something like criminal justice, political science, or another related field. Once you have chosen your program, make sure to consult with your undergraduate advisor and let them know that you are pursuing judgeship. They will be able to help you build the educational foundation for your chosen career. After you graduate, the next step is to take the LSAT - the Law School Admission Test.
The LSAT is an important test that measures your reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Be sure to take the time to study for this test! Treat it as another class and familiarize yourself with the test instructions and the types of questions you'll find on it. There are plenty of resources online to help, like practice tests and sample questions with explanations.
Once you've gotten great marks on your LSAT, then comes the process of applying to law schools to earn your Juris Doctor degree (J.D.). This degree prepares you to pass the bar exam and gain the skills necessary to practice law and eventually, to become a judge. The process of getting this degree generally takes 3-4 years, depending on the program that you select.
Once you graduate from law school, the next step is to take the Bar Exam. Depending on the state you're in, the admission and testing requirements will vary. Do your research to find out what you will be tested over. Like the LSAT, there are many resources available for preparing to take the Bar Exam.
The very last part of your education as a judge comes later, once you've been appointed or elected to the bench. Depending on your location, you may be required to complete an initial training program offered by an organization like the National Judicial College or the Federal Judicial Center. Many judges are also required to take continuing education courses periodically in order to stay informed about changes to the current laws.
Judge Careers: Overview and Types of Judges
There are many different types of judges in our court system. It helps to think of the courts as a flowchart - you start at the lowest level in the District Courts and then as cases are appealed, they rise up through the system to the Court of Appeals, ultimately ending up at the highest court of our country, the Supreme Court.
As a U.S. District Court Judge, you would be presiding over criminal and civil cases at the very first step of the process. If you become a Court of Appeals Judge, you look at cases where a defendant feels the law was not applied correctly to their case and you determine if their argument has merit.
After the Court of Appeals, the final decision in contentious cases is the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Judges. A Supreme Court Judge is the highest and most prestigious position in the court system. You and your fellow 8 justices are responsible for interpreting the law of the land and making decisions that become the guide for how judges in the lower courts should apply the law to cases that are heard throughout our court system.
This just brushes the surface of the court system. There are many interesting courts to sit over, like the U.S. Court of International Trade or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, not to mention the Bankruptcy Courts or the courts that deal with military cases. Depending on the types of cases you are interested in, there is a court that will suit you and your specialized skills.
Why Should I Become a Judge?
It takes a lot of hard work to become a judge, but the rewards make it worthwhile. A simple reward is that you will have a stable salary. As a lawyer, you're usually dependent on gaining new clients to pay your bills, but judges receive a salary that is more than enough to live on and then some. In addition to the salary, you will also have the ability to set your own schedule and have more regular work hours. Being a judge also comes with the title and the prestige of being an authority figure.
The money and the title is great perk, but the biggest reward is the satisfaction of being an instrument of justice. Because of your work, innocent people are protected and guilty people are punished. You will get to be in court on a regular basis and help many people from all walks of life as you are privy to all the drama and intrigue of litigation. You will make a difference in the world each and every day when you go to work as a judge.