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Judge Job Description, Career as a Judge, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Advanced degree

Salary Median—$93,070 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Judges preside over trials and hearings in federal, state, and local courts. They rule on the admissibility of evidence, monitor the testimony of witnesses, and settle disputes between prosecutors and defense attorneys. When standard procedures do not already exist, judges establish new rules based on their own knowledge of the law. They must ensure that all proceedings are fair and protect the legal rights of everyone involved.

Judges often conduct pretrial hearings to determine if the evidence warrants a trial. In criminal cases they must decide whether to hold defendants in jail pending trial or to set bail and other conditions for release. Judges instruct jurors about their duties and advise them of applicable laws. If defendants are found guilty, judges pronounce sentences. They determine verdicts in cases without juries.

Outside the courtroom, judges work in private offices, called chambers, where they read legal briefs and motions, research legal issues, hold hearings with lawyers, and write opinions. They also supervise their courts' administrative and clerical personnel.

Judges' duties vary depending on their jurisdictions and powers. Federal and state trial judges have jurisdiction over all cases in their systems. Administrative law judges are employed by government agencies to rule on appeals of such matters as individuals' eligibility for workers' compensation or the enforcement of health and safety regulations. Appellate court judges have the power to overrule decisions made by federal and state trial judges and administrative law judges if they find legal errors or contradictory legal precedents. Magistrates, or municipal court judges, form the majority of state court judges. Most of their work involves small-claims cases, misdemeanors, and pretrial hearings.

Education and Training Requirements

Almost all judges have law degrees and several years of legal experience. Many states permit individuals who are not lawyers to be administrative law judges and to hold limited-jurisdiction judgeships; however, law degrees are preferred. All federal and state trial and appellate court judges and federal administrative law judges must be lawyers. In addition, federal administrative law judges must pass examinations administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Judges must ensure that court proceedings are fair and that the legal rights of all parties are protected. (© Bob Gomel/Corbis.)

Getting the Job

Judges are either appointed or elected. The president, with Senate approval, appoints federal judges for life. The various federal agencies appoint federal administrative law judges, generally for life. About half of all state judges are appointed; the other half are chosen in statewide elections. Most state and municipal judges serve fixed terms; limited-jurisdiction judges usually serve terms of four to six years, while some appellate court judges serve terms as long as fourteen years.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Judges advance by moving into courts that extend their jurisdictions and powers. Administrative law judges may become trial court judges and, with experience, appellate court judges. They may eventually be elected or appointed to the highest courts in their states or, in very rare cases, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Employment opportunities for judges are expected to be about as good as the average for all jobs through 2014. Although public concerns about crime and the need for justice are likely to increase the demand for judges, cuts in government spending may slow job growth. Most job openings will be created because many judges are retiring early.

Working Conditions

Many judges work a standard forty-hour week, but about a third work more than fifty hours a week. Judges who preside over small-claims or family courts may work evening hours. Criminal arraignments may be held at any time.

Earnings and Benefits

Judges' annual salaries vary according to the type of judgeship. In 2004 the median salary for judges, magistrates, and magistrate judges was $93,070 per year. Judges on federal courts of appeals earned $171,800 per year, while district court judges had salaries of $162,100 per year. Salaries for associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court were $199,200 per year. The chief justice of the United States was paid $208,100 per year.

The median salary of administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers was $68,930 per year, and arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators earned $54,760 per year.

Associate justices of the states' highest courts earned average salaries of $130,461 per year. State intermediate appellate court judges averaged $122,682 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

American Bar Association
321 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 988-5000

American Judges Association
National Center for State Courts
300 Newport Ave.
Williamsburg, VA 23185-4147
(757) 259-1841

Benefits for most judges include health, life, and dental insurance; judicial immunity protection; expense accounts; vacation, holiday, and sick leave; and matching contributions to retirement plans.

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