Does the field of law interest you? Contemplating whether or not to go to law school but you’re not sure if becoming a lawyer is the right fit? There’s hope! Many occupations can suit your fancy when you have a law degree under your belt. If you love justice and want to serve your country, why not become a judge?
Keep reading if you want to find out everything you need to know about becoming a judge.
What does a judge do?
As a judge, you apply the law to court cases and oversee trials in court. Judges also resolve disputes and negotiations between opposing parties before the courtroom is even in sight. Judges handle various cases, such as traffic violations and civil or business disputes. Civil disputes include personal injury law suits, contract disputes and discrimination law suits. Business disputes include tax issues, unemployment benefits and labor relations.
Judges also have specializations like family, administrative, criminal or civil law. Unlike what you may see on TV, not every case involves a jury. However, in cases that need one, the judge instructs them on the laws that apply to the case and tells them how to listen to the opposing sides. Other duties involved with being a judge include:
- Brushing up on the law and legal issues for every case
- Evaluating documents such as records and claims
- Rereading court transcripts
- Looking at evidence submitted by the court
- Listening to or reading arguments of opposing parties
- Talking with opposing sides of a case to see if there is any room for settlement
What does it take to become a judge?
In order to become a judge, you will first need to earn a four year bachelor’s degree. Did you major in biology but change your post-undergrad plans from med school to law school? Don’t fret. To attend law school, there is no specific undergraduate degree that you need to obtain. Despite this, most law students major in business, history, political science or economics during their undergraduate years.
After completing a bachelor’s degree, you need to earn a law degree. This education will take three years to complete. After law school, you need to pass the bar exam. If you obtained a law degree in Colorado, but plan on moving to New York to practice, you have to pass the bar exam in the Big Apple. Finally, anyone who wants to become a judge should work as an attorney or another type of lawyer for a few years after finishing law school.
What should you know about becoming a judge?
1. What is my expected income?
On average, you will be expected to earn $120,130 per year as a judge. The middle 50% of judges in the United States make between $58,230 and $143,550 per year. The top 10% of judges make an annual income of $172,730 or more.
2. How much will I work?
As a judge you will be expected to work full time, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to working full time, you might have to travel for court cases during the week. “Most full-time trial court judges work regular business hours (40-45) during regular weeks, plus extra time in the evenings, early mornings and occasional weekends to draft decisions and prepare for the week’s cases,” Honorable Mark Blanchfield,Family Court Judge in the state of New York said.
3. What will my work environment be like?
“The work environment is well, pretty mixed. Much of the work preparing for court sessions is behind the scene, in an office environment,” Honorable Norm Massry, Colonie Town Justice in the state of New York said. In your office, you do research on the cases you will oversee, as well as study the law. In the courtroom, you oversee and apply the law to court cases. “We hold regular court sessions four days a week and conduct arraignments seven days a week,” Massry said.
4. What do I need to know about the future of the profession?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there won’t be many more new jobs for judges in the future. Many judgeships have lifelong terms. Others, however, have fixed or renewable terms. Additionally, a majority of judges will either have to be elected or recommended for the position. However in some cases, judges need to apply to the position like you would any other job, like state level administrative law judges. You will need a long history of practice as a lawyer to obtain this career.
Skills you need to become a judge
As a judge, you need excellent listening skills. Probably one of the most important attributes you can possess. When in court, you will listen to both sides of the story. You will not only follow along with the case, but make a decision based on the facts. If listening isn’t your forte, either work on your skills or take a pass on this job. You have to pay attention, even when the case seems ‘boring.’ People’s lives are in your hands, so be able to listen to both sides and make a fair decision based on what you have heard.
Judges don’t choose their ‘favorite’ side in court. Their job focuses on using what they have learned about the law to make an impartial decision regarding a case or trial. You need to remain emotionally detached in a case. Make decisions based on what the law sees as right and wrong, not your personal opinion.
As a judge, decision-making never ends and every decision has value. Judges choose the ultimate fate of people’s lives. In some cases, a judge can choose for someone to be sentenced to prison or placed on probation, and for how long. In other cases, the judge decides how people can do business and controls interactions between people; for example, issuing a restraining order. A judge makes decisions based on the law. Decisions need to lack emotion.
Other relevant skills:
- Reading comprehension
- Common sense
“It’s like being the reasonable person between two polar opposite sides. So, you may sympathize or empathize with one side, but it’s more of a technical application of a law to a certain situation.” – Donna Gardiner, Administrative Law Judge
“Often the best you can do is to give both sides a fair opportunity to give their side of things, and let people know that you will faithfully apply the rule of law to each case regardless of who the individual litigants are, what they look like, where they come from, etc. That sounds pretty elemental, but a lot of countries don’t operate on those principles, and it can be very fulfilling to be part of a system that does. Being a Judge is a wonderful way to serve your community and country.” – Blanchfield
“The effect you have on the people who come to court is enormous. I get the greatest satisfaction when a criminal defendant later comes up to me, whether it be in the mall or the supermarket, and thanks me for having compassion and understanding, helping them to get their life back on track.” – Massry