Career Guide: Judge

Judges oversee the legal process in the nation's courts. They follow and interpret the laws of the U.S. and state constitutions they serve. Most of their work takes place in offices or courtrooms, and the majority of judges work at the state or federal levels. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that only 19% of administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers work at the local level.

Professionals become judges or magistrates through appointment or election. As an officer of the court, judges must remain impartial, but their employment typically requires political support. For more information on judge careers, plus the requirements to become a judge, check out the following career guide, which covers educational paths, salary rates, and job outlook.

What Does a Judge Do?

Judges preside over court proceedings in a fair and unbiased way. Duties include conducting hearings, listening to evidence and case arguments, making rulings, and resolving disputes between parties.

They also research legal issues, write opinions, and evaluate the legality of documents like motions, claims, and pleadings. Judges hear cases, decide on guilt or innocence in bench trials, and instruct jurors in jury trials.

The majority of judges work alone; however, a portion oversee courts as part of a panel. Most judges hold professional law degrees, though some states elect non-lawyer judges to preside over the lower courts and hear minor cases. A law degree typically takes seven years of full-time study following high school.

As noted, judges gain their benches through election or appointment. Terms last 2-4 years for a municipal judge and eight years for a state judge. Federal judges have lifetime appointments, meaning they remain in office until they step down, pass away, or are impeached by the House of Representatives.

Learn More About Judge Careers

This page covers the details on becoming a judge, including what judges do day-to-day, the skills necessary to excel in the profession, and the qualifications candidates need to enter the field.

Judge Job Description: What You’ll Do

Judge Salary and Job Growth

Becoming a judge generally means a lucrative annual salary. The BLS reports that judges earn a median salary of $117,190, and that magistrate judges make around $34,000 more than administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers.

The BLS projects judge jobs will increase by 5% between 2016 and 2026, and legal occupations will grow by 9% overall. Job growth largely depends upon current judges leaving their posts for retirement, to teach, or because their elected terms end. Because judges work for the local, state, or federal governments, budget constraints could also impact the profession's growth.

Learn More About Judge Salaries

Find out what judges earn and the projections for judge job growth through 2026 from this salary page, which also takes a look at related legal careers and factors that could impact the employment of judges overall.

Judge Job Salary: What You’ll Earn

Take the Next Steps

Those interested in becoming a judge or who aspire to work in the criminal justice, legal, or law enforcement fields can visit the following resources for detailed information on the college degrees and career options available.

Explore Degrees in Legal Studies

This resource explores the bachelor's in legal studies program, which prepares students for careers as paralegals, arbitrators, court reporters, lawyers, or judges. The page takes a look at program cost, length, and popular concentrations.

Explore Other Careers in Criminal Justice

Here, prospective students can check out degrees in criminal justice and the various careers available to them after graduation, including crime scene investigator, criminologist, or military police. The page covers associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs.

Professional Organizations and Resources for Judges

Joining a professional organization provides members with the support to grow both professionally and personally. Membership provides networking opportunities with peers, established professionals, and industry leaders through annual conferences, local chapters, and virtual events and forums.

Professional organizations also offer resources for career development, including job boards, scholarships, and continuing education opportunities, like workshops, seminars, and certifications. Members also contribute to advocacy for their profession and receive news and updates on legislation, trends, and industry developments.

  • American Judges Association AJA promotes the effective administration of justice and continued independence of the judiciary. Members benefit from peer mentoring, collegiality and networking, scholarships, and access to papers, research, and continuing education. The annual conference offers members over 15 credits of professional development.
  • National Association of Women Judges Formed in 1979, NAWJ was at the forefront of the establishment and implementation of gender bias task forces in the courts. It continues to work to ensure equal justice and access to the courts for all. Administrative law judges, judicial clerks, attorneys, and law students count among NAWJ membership.
  • Federal Judges Association FJA brings together U.S. federal judges with a mission to support and enhance the role of FJA members in a fair, impartial, and independent judiciary. Any of the nation's federal judges -- those nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate -- may apply for membership.