How to Become a Bankruptcy Judge


Most judges at the federal level are nominated by the U.S. President and approved by Congress. Bankruptcy judges, who hear all matters related to U.S. bankruptcy law, follow a different path. They are elected by a majority of the Court of Appeals from the district in which they serve. For example, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals hears appeals of district court cases from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The 14 judges who sit there elect bankruptcy judges in the circuit.

Things You'll Need

  • Law degree and five years in practice
  • Membership in a bar association for the highest court of at least one state
  • Plan your life. Appointment as a bankruptcy judge is very competitive and may take years of planning, making connections and avoiding errors. Lawyers angling for federal judgeships and appointments must make a steady habit of procuring a good reputation and avoiding embarrassment. Bankruptcy judges must pass background checks by the FBI and IRS.

  • Search for vacancies. Bankruptcy judges are appointed to 14-year terms, so vacancies may open up more frequently than those for federal district judgeships. There is no requirement that a judge live in the district for which she is applying, though it probably helps. Vacancies are advertised in legal periodicals and websites.

  • Obtain an application and fill it out. The notice of vacancy will explain how to obtain an application. The application may ask for detailed biographical information, information on time spent working on bankruptcy cases, involvement in significant cases and detailed information about work habits -- including the percentage of time spent in court or researching cases. The application and instructions for a bankruptcy judgeship in the 9th Circuit ran for 36 pages.

  • Interview if invited. The appointment process may differ in each jurisdiction, but federal statute and rules of the federal judiciary lay out a basic framework. Some circuits have merit screening committees that will evaluate the qualifications of candidates.The merit screening committee usually comprises prominent legal experts in the district, including other judges and law school professors. If there is a merit screening committee, it will make recommendations to a judicial council of five to 10 of the best applicants, who recommend three candidates for consideration by all judges on the circuit court of appeals. If there is no merit screening committee, a judicial council or subcommittee of the council will nominate candidates for consideration. Each of the three panels -- the merit committee, the judicial council and the full circuit -- may ask for interviews.

  • Get elected. A candidate is elected if he receives the vote of a majority of judges on the circuit court of appeals. If no majority is reached, the chief judge of the circuit can make the appointment.

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