Becoming a Judge: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A judge makes an average salary of $106,420, but is it worth all the education and training requirements? Get the real job duties and career prospects to see if a career as a judge is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Judicial Career

Judges have immense responsibilities, giving them a sense of honor, but being a judge also requires an investment of time and hard work. Find out the pros and cons of becoming a judge to decide if it's the right career move for you.

Pros of Being a Judge
Perform the essential duty of law and administering law in all cases*
Relatively comfortable working environment*
Work on a variety of different legal issues*
Frequent communication and central in discussions**
Independence with work**

Cons of Being a Judge
Slow job growth (2% between 2012 and 2022)*
Investment of time in legal research and court cases*
Immense academic and career investments*
Job is mostly sitting and listening*
Requires immense critical and analytical thinking skills*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online

Essential Career Info

The term judge carries with it multiple meanings and different professional titles. For example, individuals who are essential to the legal process may be considered judges under most conventional definitions. What defines a professional title as being a judge is that they carry out legal principles and rulings in a court of law. Events like criminal and civil trials, along with many arbitration or mitigation cases are administered or presided over by a judge.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all judges lead and have legal authority within a courtroom as they sit to hear a legal case between two parties (www.bls.gov). The BLS notes that a judge uses legal precedent, state and federal laws or contracts and agreements, to decide which party is at fault and is liable for payment or for a punishment. They also serve as the authority over mutual agreements and contracts, allowing two individuals to enter a bond together, such as a marriage or business contract.

Salary Information

The average salary of judges and magistrates was $106,420 in 2014, according to the BLS. In the same year, the BLS noted that judges who worked for the state government had the highest average salary at $123,830.

Career Requirements

Since a judge can refer to many professional titles, education and training requirements vary widely. The typical academic route for most judges is to hold a bachelor's degree followed by a law degree. Unlike other jobs, judges are typically appointed by executives in governments, such as governors or the President of the United States, or they appointed to lower administrative levels by superior judges.

For example, a federal-district magistrate judge is appointed by a federal district judge, the latter being a judge who is appointed by the President of the United States. Some states have districts where judicial professionals are elected, but typically governors appoint state-level judges as well.

What Do Employers Look for?

Although most of these positions are appointed within terms or given tenure, there are still marketable traits you can provide in order to be hired by state or federal districts. Many positions are open for specialized judges who understand specific sectors of law, such as bankruptcy or public policy. Recent job postings as of March 2012 include:

  • A federal appeals court for Rhode Island needs a judge to specialize in bankruptcy cases. Attorneys with commercial experience are preferred for this position.
  • The city of Lakewood, Colorado, needs a municipal judge who can enforce city laws and ordinances in trials. It is a part-time position where you will report to the senior judge, but you have adjudicating power in the courtroom. Applicants will need at least a law degree.
  • A magistrate judge position in Missouri is vacant and needs a new judge. Five district judges will choose the candidate, who needs a JD degree with a good understanding of civil law and considered by peers as a good citizen.

How to Stand Out in the Field

The highly competitive field of judges requires you to invest heavily in skills and training. Investing in educational and job opportunities at lower judicial-administrative levels can be key as well. Since many judicial jobs are appointments, having a good network and professional experience is necessary.

Working hard at lower-level judicial positions may help network you across the judicial stage. Since most judge positions are appointments, you need to make yourself noticed. This could include working as an attorney, especially prosecuting civil and criminal cases on behalf of the state, or working your way up as a mediator or adjudicator.

Other Careers to Consider

Lawyer

If you want to work in law, but would rather defend clients, becoming a lawyer is one alternative to a judicial position. Unlike a judge, who works to listen both sides of a case, your career as an attorney means you must best represent your client at trial. There is a sense of advocacy with this position; however, coming up in the winning-side of the legal debate is part of the persuasive battle in a court of law. The average salary for this position is slightly higher than the salary for judges at $130,000 in May 2011.

Mediator

If you want to stay in the judicial sector, but you want to suggest solutions instead of deciding law, you may want to become a mediator. A mediator is typically considered a type of judicial worker who listens to two parties in dispute and tries to resolve the dispute amicably. Unlike a judge, the mediator cannot give any binding statement to either party; however, similar to judges they will need good and clear communication skills. Although the salary for this career is considerably less, O*Net Online notes that most professionals in this career hold a bachelor's degree or have only completed some college-level coursework.

A professional like a mediator or an arbitrator needs to meet guidelines set by individual states. This can include training programs that have specific passing guidelines and entrance requirements based upon academic achievement, like a degree in law or public policy. In 2011, the BLS reported that the average salary for mediators was $76,000.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MSCJ: Law
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
  • Master of Public Administration - Government and Policy

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
  • B.S. Criminal Justice
  • A.S. Criminal Justice
  • Undergraduate Certificate - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?