Requirements for Becoming a Judge

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the need for judges in the United States will increase by 4 percent from 2008 through 2018. This increased demand for judges will create roughly 1,800 new jobs in the field during that time frame. Competition for judge positions is great; only highly-qualified individuals are typically able to obtain positions in the field.

Education

  • Typically, judges work as lawyers prior to entering the field. In fact, 91 percent of all judges have professional degrees, such as a Juris Doctor, the degree awarded by law schools, according to the Occupational Information Network. Entry into law school first requires a four-year baccalaureate degree. After graduation, prospective lawyers must attend a law school that carries the accreditation of the American Bar Association. As of January 2011, 200 universities had the ABA's approval. Law school programs typically require three years of full-time study to complete.

License

  • After graduating from law school, prospective judges must gain a license to practice law from their states. Each state's bar association establishes its own requirements for licensure. Forty-eight states require prospective attorneys to pass a written test known as the Multistate Bar Examination to gain licensing. After becoming licensed attorneys, prospective judges must typically practice law for several years to gain the legal experience and practical knowledge necessary to become a judge. Some states require judges to gain additional licenses prior to overseeing a court. These credentials may require passing an additional exam or having a minimum number of years of experience practicing law.

Appointments or Elections

  • Most judge positions require candidates to become elected or appointed. Often, judges begin by presiding over local courts, which usually require being voted into office through a successful political campaign. State courts usually include both elected and appointed positions, while federal positions are generally all received through appointments by the governor. To qualify for an appointment, judges must typically have a proven record of success presiding over cases in lower courts of law.

Other Requirements

  • Judges must typically have a clean background with no record of any criminal activity to qualify for appointments and to successfully win elections. Some states require new judges to successfully complete a training or mentoring program prior to becoming fully appointed. For success in the field, judges must have strong communication skills with the ability to speak effectively and authoritatively in a court room. The ability to write formal legal opinions is also necessary. Judges must possess a thorough knowledge of the laws that govern the types of cases they hear in order to correctly interpret them when making decisions that affect the outcomes of cases.

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