Attorneys may advance to be a judge, but judges are not necessarily lawyers. Federal and State Judges are required to be lawyers, but in 40 states, a law degree is not required for a judgeship in a limited jurisdiction. For many positions, judges are elected. Being a judge is a prestigious position, so there is competition for these legal careers.

What is the job of a judge?

Judges preside over the courts at every level of society. They might be over traffic court, a criminal court, civil court, or one dealing with business and bankruptcy. They preside over these courts to ensure that law and fairness standards are met. They must assess the admissibility of evidence, correct ways of testimony, settle disputes among the lawyers, and ensure that the rules and procedures are in accordance with the law. Sometimes they must interpret the law to fit a new situation.

Judges may hold pretrial hearings to decide if the evidence is enough to hold a trial. In a jury trial, the judge gives the jury directions about the law and how it should be applied. Some cases require the judge to determine the sentence for the convicted person. In civil cases, the judge may choose the compensation to be paid to the victim.

There are judges at several levels in our legal system. Judges of the federal and state court systems handle cases involving felony offenses or those that are outside the jurisdiction of the lower courts. Federal and state appellate judges rule on cases from lower courts, either upholding the decisions or overturning it. There are also judges at the municipal court, traffic court, and county court areas. Each state has a highest court, staffed by justices. The United States Supreme Court has nine justices.

What are the requirements for the job?

The minimum requirements for judge are a Bachelor’s degree, however most judges have law degrees. Usually a new judge will attend an orientation presented by the state and about half of the states require judges to attend continuing education during their terms. Judges in many jurisdictions are elected, so they must be reelected each time to continue in the job.

What is the work environment?

Judges work in courtrooms, offices, and law libraries. They usually work 40 hours a week, although some might work up to 50.

Salaries, job advancement and outlook

Judges in the municipal arena earned about $77,000 in 2008, while those in state positions had salaries of $126,000. Justices of the highest state courts earned an average of $151,000, while associate justices made $145,000. Judges in federal appellate courts made $179,000. Highest paid were the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court at $208,000 with the Chief Justice making $217,000.

Judges advance by becoming judges on higher courts. The process is usually a slow one and many judges are content at the place they currently hold.

The job outlook for judges is slower than the average for the years 2008 to 2018. The Bureau of Labor States predicts a growth of 4%. Most jurisdictions face budgetary challenges, which lower the amount of money available for courts. Some specialties will show an increase in the number of judges, such as those dealing with immigration issues.

Last Updated: 05/23/2014

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