Working as a Judge

What Does a Judge Do

Judges and hearing officers apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. They also conduct pretrial hearings, resolve administrative disputes, facilitate negotiations between opposing parties, and issue legal decisions.

Duties

Judges and hearing officers typically do the following:

  • Research legal issues
  • Read and evaluate information from documents, such as motions, claim applications, and records
  • Preside over hearings and listen to and read arguments by opposing parties
  • Determine if the information presented supports the charge, claim, or dispute
  • Decide if the procedure is being conducted according to the rules and law
  • Apply laws or precedents to reach judgments and to resolve disputes between parties
  • Write opinions, decisions, and instructions regarding cases, claims, and disputes

Judges commonly preside over trials and hearings of cases regarding nearly every aspect of society, from individual traffic offenses to issues concerning the rights of large corporations. Judges listen to arguments and determine if the evidence presented deserves a trial. In criminal cases, judges may decide that people charged with crimes should be held in jail until the trial, or they may set conditions for their release. They also approve search warrants and arrest warrants.

Judges interpret the law to determine how a trial will proceed, which is particularly important when unusual circumstances arise for which standard procedures have not been established. They ensure that hearings and trials are conducted fairly and that the legal rights of all involved parties are protected.

In trials in which juries are selected to decide the case, judges instruct jurors on applicable laws and direct them to consider the facts from the evidence. For other trials, judges decide the case. A judge who determines guilt in criminal cases may impose a sentence or penalty on the guilty party. In civil cases, the judge may award relief, such as compensation for damages, to the parties who win lawsuits.

Judges use various forms of technology, such as electronic databases and software, to manage cases and to prepare for trials. In some cases, a judge may manage the court’s administrative and clerical staff.

The following are examples of types of judges and hearing officers:

Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates preside over trials and hearings. They typically work in local, state, and federal courts.

In local and state court systems, they have a variety of titles, such as municipal court judge, county court judge, and justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings make up the bulk of these judges’ work.

In federal and state court systems, district court judges and general trial court judges have authority over any case in their system. Appellate court judges rule on a small number of cases, by reviewing decisions of the lower courts and lawyers’ written and oral arguments.

Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers usually work for local, state, and federal government agencies. They decide many issues, such as whether a person is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits or whether employment discrimination occurred.

How To Become a Judge

Judges and hearing officers typically must have a law degree and work experience as a lawyer.

Education

Although there may be a few positions available for those with a bachelor’s degree, a law degree typically is required for most jobs as a local, state, or federal judge or hearing officer.

In addition to earning a law degree, federal administrative law judges must pass a competitive exam from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Earning a law degree usually takes 7 years of full-time study after high school: 4 years of undergraduate study, followed by 3 years of law school. Law degree programs include courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing. For more information on how to become a lawyer, see the profile on lawyers.

Most judges and magistrates must be appointed or elected into their positions, a procedure that often takes political support. Many local and state judges are appointed to serve fixed renewable terms, ranging from 4 to 14 years. A few judges, such as appellate court judges, are appointed for life. Judicial nominating commissions screen candidates for judgeships in many states and for some federal judgeships. Some local and state judges are elected to a specific term in an election process.

For specific state information, including information on the number of judgeships by state, term lengths, and requirements for qualification, visit the National Center for State Courts.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most judges and hearing officers learn their skills through years of experience as practicing lawyers. Some states allow those who are not lawyers to hold limited-jurisdiction judgeships, but opportunities are better for those with law experience.

Training

All states have some type of orientation for newly elected or appointed judges. The Federal Judicial Center, American Bar Association, National Judicial College, and National Center for State Courts provide judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel.

More than half of all states, as well as Puerto Rico, require judges to take continuing education courses while serving on the bench. General and continuing education courses usually last from a few days to 3 weeks.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most judges and hearing officers are required to have a law license. In addition, they typically must maintain their law license and good standing with their state bar association while working as a judge or hearing officer.

Advancement

Advancement for some judicial workers means moving to courts with a broader jurisdiction. Advancement for various hearing officers includes taking on more complex cases, practicing law, and becoming district court judges.

Important Qualities

Critical-thinking skills. Judges and hearing officers must apply rules of law. They cannot let their own personal assumptions interfere with the proceedings. For example, they must base their decisions on specific meanings of the law when evaluating and deciding whether a person is a threat to others and must be sent to jail.

Decisionmaking skills. Judges and hearing officers must be able to weigh the facts, to apply the law and rules, and to make a decision relatively quickly.

Listening skills. Judges and hearing officers evaluate information, so they must pay close attention to what is being said.

Reading skills. Judges and hearing officers must be able to distinguish important facts from large amounts of sometimes complex information and then evaluate the facts objectively.

Writing skills. Judges and hearing officers write recommendations and decisions on appeals and disputes. They must be able to write their decisions clearly so that all sides understand the decision.

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Average Salary$207,891
Job Growth Rate3%

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Average Salary for a Judge

Judges in America make an average salary of $207,891 per year or $100 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $286,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $150,000 per year.
Average Salary
$207,891

Best Paying Cities

Average Salary
Salary Range130k - 260k$184k$183,971
Salary Range128k - 249k$179k$178,742
Salary Range112k - 233k$162k$162,496
Salary Range110k - 230k$160k$159,662
Salary Range107k - 233k$158k$158,404
Salary Range96k - 203k$140k$140,403
$96k
$260k

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Judge Demographics

Gender

male

47.3%

female

47.0%

unknown

5.6%

Ethnicity

White

79.9%

Hispanic or Latino

7.0%

Asian

5.5%

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

42.4%

French

14.4%

Chinese

5.0%
See More Demographics

Judge Education

Majors

Law
40.4%

Degrees

Bachelors

34.6%

Doctorate

33.0%

Masters

15.3%

Top Colleges for Judges

1. Stanford University

Stanford, CA

Tuition and fees
$51,354
Enrollment
7,083

2. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA

Tuition and fees
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582

3. Duke University

Durham, NC

Tuition and fees
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

4. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

Tuition and fees
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

5. Yale University

New Haven, CT

Tuition and fees
$53,430
Enrollment
5,963

6. Cornell University

Ithaca, NY

Tuition and fees
$55,188
Enrollment
15,105

7. Georgetown University

Washington, DC

Tuition and fees
$54,104
Enrollment
7,089

8. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI

Tuition and fees
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

9. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL

Tuition and fees
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

10. University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, IN

Tuition and fees
$53,391
Enrollment
8,568
See More Education Info

Entry Level Jobs For Becoming A Judge

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Top Skills For a Judge

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 33.0% of judges listed legal issues on their resume, but soft skills such as writing skills and integrity are important as well.

  • Legal Issues, 33.0%
  • Civil Litigation, 13.5%
  • Counsel, 12.2%
  • International Law, 12.2%
  • Court Proceedings, 4.0%
  • Other Skills, 25.1%
  • See All Judge Skills

Best States For a Judge

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a judge. The best states for people in this position are South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota. Judges make the most in South Dakota with an average salary of $167,652. Whereas in Wyoming and Nebraska, they would average $163,620 and $163,178, respectively. While judges would only make an average of $161,487 in North Dakota, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. South Dakota

Total Judge Jobs:
7
Highest 10% Earn:
$254,000
Location Quotient:
9.21
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Wyoming

Total Judge Jobs:
6
Highest 10% Earn:
$251,000
Location Quotient:
10.88
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. North Dakota

Total Judge Jobs:
5
Highest 10% Earn:
$252,000
Location Quotient:
5.39
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Judge Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a judge. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

At Zippia, we went through countless judge resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

Learn How To Write a Judge Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless judge resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Top Judge Employers

1. DCI
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$42,543
Judges Hired: 
3+
2. The Ohio State University
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$46,417
Judges Hired: 
3+
3. Hotel Pattee
3.0
Avg. Salary: 
$32,168
Judges Hired: 
2+
4. Lake City High School
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$44,888
Judges Hired: 
2+
5. New Mexico State Fair
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$33,072
Judges Hired: 
2+
6. Human Services Div
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$45,365
Judges Hired: 
2+

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Updated October 2, 2020