judge
How to Become a

Judge

The complete career guide to be a Judge: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $93,140
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • -3.3%
    Job Growth Rate
  • High Income Potential
    Career Attribute
  • Investigative
    Career Attribute

Judges apply the laws of a jurisdiction, state, or country to make decisions on court cases. They may preside over cases of small personal disputes—such as unpaid rent—or they may oversee major criminal trials or class action lawsuits. They make rulings, issue sentences, award settlements, and educate juries.


What is a Judge?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in judge roles:

  • Review all evidence presented in court cases in order to make rulings, issue sentences, and award settlements
  • Educate juries on both the law and their responsibilities to ensure a fair trial
  • Apply their knowledge of the law to a variety of different types of cases—from traffic violations to corporate malpractice
  • Review and approve search and arrest warrants

A Day in the Life

Judges apply logic and laws in order to make rulings, issue sentences, and award settlements in court cases. They may work in a wide variety of fields and make rulings on a diverse set of issues. Some judges work in family courts and handle divorce and custody disagreements, some work in traffic court where they issue rulings and penalties for offenses committed by drivers, and some work in criminal courts where they deal with accusations of murder, theft, embezzlement, and other major crimes.

Regardless of the type of cases a judge oversees, his/her main responsibility is to review the facts—and sometimes review rulings from higher courts for similar cases—and apply both logic and the law to make a final decision. The decision may be to offer a settlement to a plaintiff, to sentence someone to time in jail, or to put someone on probation. In some cases, a judge works with a jury that makes the decision of guilt or innocence, and the judge is responsible for educating the jury on their responsibilities.

Judges also assist law enforcement officials and lawyers in the activities that occur before a court case. They may review and approve or deny search warrants and arrest warrants, evaluating the evidence presented by detectives and prosecutors to determine if a search or arrest is justified. They preside over pretrial hearings and determine if a defendant should be held in jail until proceedings have completed, or they set the conditions for releasing a defendant until official court hearings begin.

Typical Work Schedule

Most judge roles are full-time positions conducted during normal business hours. However, judges may commonly be required to work overtime, and may need to be on-call during non-working hours to approve and issue warrants.

Judge Specializations

  • Municipal court judges and county court judges generally oversee minor court cases exclusive to a local area, such as traffic violations, divorce proceedings, small-claims courts, and misdemeanor offenses.
  • District court judges preside over larger cases—including criminal trials—in state and federal court systems.
  • Administrative law judges oversee cases where there is a disagreement between an employee and their employer, such as worker’s compensation disagreements and harassment lawsuits.
  • Supreme court judges make decisions on cases that could affect the laws for the entire nation.

Typical Employers

Judges are employed by governments at the local, state, and federal levels.


How To Become a Judge

The first step in becoming a judge is to earn an undergraduate degree. The type of degree an aspiring judge pursues is flexible because the bulk of his/her law training will occur in graduate school. Popular undergraduate majors for aspiring judges include political science, English, history, and philosophy. Political science majors tend to be the most common because they focus on providing a thorough education in the legal and political systems of government.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to apply for and be accepted into law school. Law schools are graduate programs that typically take three years to complete and result in a juris doctor (J.D.) degree. After graduating from law school, you’ll need to take the bar exam, offered through the American Bar Association. Passing the bar exam and holding a J.D. degree are common requirements for becoming licensed to practice as a lawyer in your state. Most judges begin their careers as lawyers.

Most judge positions are elected positions, so both experience in law and involvement in the community are crucial. Before running for judge positions, aspiring judges will need to do a lot of networking within their communities in order to garner support—and funding—for their campaigns. After being elected as a judge and serving the required term, judges may decide to run again to retain their office, or they may run for higher-level offices in more prestigious court systems.


Judge Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$61,010

Average

$93,140

High Range

$158,700

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$29/hr

Average

$45/hr

High Range

$76/hr

How do Judge salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Judge's can make an average annual salary of $93,140, or $45 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $61,010 or $29 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #86 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally


Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Judge. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.


Highest Education Among Judges

  • 91%   Doctorate
  • 4.1%   Masters
  • 3.5%   Bachelors
  • 0.5%   Associates
  • 0.4%   College
  • 0.4%   High School
  • 0.1%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

15,000

2024 Est. Jobs

14,500

Job Growth Rate

-3.3%

Est. New Jobs

-500

How does Judge job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of -500 jobs for a total of 14,500 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a -3.3% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #674 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally


What Companies Employ The Most Judges

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
State government, excluding education and hospitals 7,700 -100 0%
Federal government, excluding postal service 4,100 -500 -1%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 3,200 100 0%

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