What Do You Need to Become a Judge?
- The absolute minimum education required to be a judge is a bachelor's degree. Ideally, if you want to be a judge, your bachelor's degree should be in criminal justice or a related field. As you earn your bachelor's degree, take classes such as history and government, political science, logic, public speaking, composition and economics. Your academic institution likely will require core classes not related to criminal justice, such as biology and math, as well.
- According to the BLS, based on 2009 data, 40 states permit nonlawyers to become judges. However, prospects are much better for those who have served as attorneys, as these workers have more industry experience and are more familiar with regulations. Go to law school and obtain a law degree. During law school, take classes such as criminology, constitutional law, legal research and writing, federal litigation, mediation and dispute management, psychology and law enforcement in society. The exact courses you take will depend on the kind of law in which you are interested (e.g., civil, criminal, state, federal, bankruptcy, family). Upon graduation, you will have a Juris Doctor degree. Law school typically takes three years to complete.
Admission to the Bar and Exams
- Lawyers must be members of the bar association or bar commission for the state in which they serve. Because some states require judges to be lawyers and because most judges have experience as attorneys, you'll probably need to apply for admission to the bar association following graduation from law school. Admission to the bar association requires you to take an exam. If you want a federal judgeship, you also will need to take an additional law exam administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Appointment or Election
- Judges are either elected or appointed. Whether you need an election or appointment depends on the judgeship you seek. For example, a federal administrative law judge requires appointment by a federal agency, and appointments are for lifetime tenure. State judges often need nominations from a nominating commission consisting of members of the state bar and members of the public. Some trial judges are elected for four to six years, while other trial and appellate court judges serve 14 years to life. Elected judges may seek re-election to a judgeship.
- A background check is done on all those who apply to be members of a state bar association. Judges should have a clean criminal history and ideally should have a consistent employment history, as well. Credit and financial history is not quite as important as the criminal and employment histories, but it can become more important in some areas of law (e.g., bankruptcy).