Judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers make up the cornerstone of the American judicial system. Becoming a judge takes years of preparation and often requires earning the community’s support and recognition, as judges are often elected or appointed into their positions.
This article provides the essential information about working as a judge, magistrate, or other judicial worker. The basic job description, education and other requirements, 10-year employment outlook, and expected yearly earnings for these professions are all included.
A judge’s primary responsibility is to preside over trials or hearings. Generally, in the court room a judge listens to the defense and prosecution attorneys present their clients’ cases and then rules on whether the comments, questions, and evidence are admissible in court. The judge also determines when proceedings in the court will begin and end. In some cases, the judge will determine the verdict of the case, but in others, the final verdict will be left to the jury. It is generally the judge’s decision to determine what the sentence will be.
Types of judges:
- General trial court judges work in the Federal and State court systems and have jurisdiction over any case that is considered to be in their system.
- Appellate court judges are granted the power to overrule trial court rulings.
- Municipal court judges, county court judges, magistrates, and justices of the peace mainly cover minor non-felony cases, such as traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings. Some states allow them to handle cases involving domestic relations, probation terms, contracts, and so on.
- Administrative law judges, hearing officers, adjudicators, arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators do their work outside of the courtroom. Their goal is to resolve cases before they need to be brought before a judge, which can be a time-consuming and costly process. These workers use methods such as executive mini-trials, early neutral evaluations, and summary jury trials to resolve issues between conflicting parties. If these pre-trial workers cannot resolve the dispute, however, the next step is to take it before a judge or magistrate.
Judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers do most of their work in offices, law libraries, and courtrooms. Full-time judges usually work 40 hours per week, but many judges in busy districts work 50 hours per week or more. Some judges in smaller jurisdictions only work part-time and have another career in addition to their judicial work.
Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators usually work in private offices or meeting rooms.
They may need to travel to meet with clients, and some work from a home office. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators usually work a standard 35- to 40-hour week. However, longer hours might be necessary while working with clients and preparing negotiations.
Education and Other Requirements
Most judges and magistrates were previously lawyers. Federal and State judges are required to first be lawyers, which means that they have received a bachelor’s degree, attended law school, and passed a bar examination. About 40 states allow individuals who do not have experience as a lawyer to work in limited-jurisdiction judgeships, but more opportunities are available for those with courtroom experience as a lawyer or attorney.
In some states, administrative law judges and other hearing officials are not required to be lawyers, but need to have an educational background in law.
For arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators, generally at least a bachelor’s degree in law is required. Many individuals in these fields have also worked in the judicial system in other forms, for example as a paralegal or lawyer.
In many jurisdictions, a justice of the peace must be elected to office by his or her constituents, or appointed by another member of government.
10-Year Employment Outlook
The number of job opportunities in these fields is expected to grow slightly slower than the average for all professions, at a rate of about 4%. Competition for judicial jobs is always high, mostly because of the prestige associated with the jobs, as well as the limited number of openings due to government funding restrictions and low retirement rates.
Job candidates with more advanced degrees and several years of work experience will have the best chance of finding work as a judge or magistrate. Individuals with specialization in certain areas will also increase their chances for employment. For example, as the immigrant population steadily increases, so will the need for judges who specialize in immigration law.
However, job opportunities for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators are expected to grow faster than the average, at a rate of 18%. More and more individuals and businesses are attempting to cut court costs by avoiding going to trial.
The amount an individual working in this field earns depends greatly on the type of employment, the level of education and experience, the location, the level of difficulty of cases, and the type and income level of clients who hire them. Here are the projected yearly earnings figures:
- Median: $110,000
- Middle range: $52,000 to $142,000
- Overall range: $32,000 to $162,000