How to Become a Judge

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If you want to become a judge, prepare for a long road. Judges require, at the very least, a professional degree, and many also hold a doctorate degree. Judges work in courtrooms at the local, state and federal government level, overseeing the legal process, conducting hearings, facilitating negotiations and issuing legal decisions. This requires a sensitivity to law's complexities, including a familiarity with historical court decisions and the ability to resist political pressures.

The Right Education

  • To become a judge, start by earning an undergraduate degree. Though there’s no requirement for a certain major, it can help to major in subjects such as political science, history, or English, since judges must be excellent writers and critical thinkers. Many prospective judges also graduate from law school, a process that can take three years. During this time, classes might include constitutional law, property law, civil and criminal procedure and legal writing. Completing relevant internships at law offices, in government or other fields can help gain valuable practical skills to accompany your academic preparation.

Work Experience in Law

  • Bolster your educational credentials with practical work experience. For some potential judges, this can mean working as lawyer. Before practicing as an attorney, you are required to pass the state bar examination. Working in law can help build important contacts, connections and relevant courtroom skills. Some states allow professionals without prior law experience to hold judgeships, but more opportunities exist for those who have worked as a lawyer. Seeking a professional mentor who is a judge, or works within law, can provide access to resources and experiences not available through traditional routes. Reading law-related journals and legal publications can add valuable insight into current events and issues.

Training and Certifications

  • Judgeships have differing requirements; for example, federal administrative law judges must pass an exam issued through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Moving up the hierarchy of judgeships may require additional training and certifications, depending on the job at hand. State governments typically have a formal orientation process for newly elected or newly appointed judges; additionally, the Federal Judicial Center, American Bar Association, National Judicial College and National Center for State Courts have special education and training programs. Studying the career paths of respected judges through traditional media, including promotions or honors, can help offer deeper insight into their professional training.

Vetting and the Appointment Process

  • Some judges run for elected office; others are nominated for available judicial positions. Having a stellar professional track record can help draw attention to a strong candidate; it also helps to have connections who might be able to refer you to decision-makers during the nomination process. Nominated candidates for some positions, such as the federal bench, are screened by the American
    Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. Professional integrity, competence and judicial “temperament” will be evaluated for suitability. There are exceptions, but twelve years of law experience is considered to be the minimum for these honored positions. Expect a hefty background check that could involve 40 or more attorneys familiar with your work experience and qualifications.

Applying for Positions

  • Although some positions are nomination-based, others can be approached through the traditional job application process.Though it might seem like common sense, make sure your professional reputation is impeccable. Pay your taxes, avoid illegal drugs, cultivate positive relationships with other legal professionals, and keep personal debt levels low. Never cut corners with household help or nannies with regard to Social Security, unemployment tax and worker’s compensation.

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