How to Become a Judge

By Eric Hammer

First of all, when we say that you can become a judge, we mean a judge in a regular court of law. If you wanted to become someone like Judge Judy or you wanted to be a judge on a show like American Idol, you have come to the wrong place. Now, that said, there are three basic ways to become a judge:

Get Elected - A small number of judges are elected to their posts. This means that you run a campaign much like a campaign for mayor or congress and must attract enough votes to land the job of judge. In these cases, judges often express harsher opinions than those who got their jobs through other means since they want to appear tough on crime for the voters. In most cases, elected judges work for small county courts as opposed to state or federal courts. Large cities usually do not elect judges either.

Get Appointed - The vast majority of judges in the United States are directly appointed by a politician. This means that if you wanted a job as a federal judge, you'd be appointed by the President of the United States. If you wanted a job as a state judge, you'd likely be appointed by the governor and as a city judge, you'd be appointed by the mayor.

Pass a Civil Service Exam - On occasion, some low level jobs as a judge are given out on the basis of civil service exams along with appropriate qualifications (i.e. that you have a law degree). In this case, while you may become a lower level judge through a civil service program, to move up the ladder, you'd likely need to get appointed.

How Much Can You Make?

The average salary for a judge was a little over $100,000 per year in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, this amount can vary greatly depending on where you work. Small county judges typically make significantly less. On the other hand, if you are able to become a judge on the Supreme Court, your salary would exceed $220,000 per year.

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One of the great things about appointed judges as opposed to those who become a judge through elections is that it is very difficult to get fired from your job. That's because the laws are designed to make sure that judges can do their work largely free of political considerations. Therefore, a Supreme Court justice is for example appointed for life and the only way to remove him or her early would be to impeach him or her in the United States Congress. For judges in other areas, removal generally requires being brought up on charges before a disciplinary board, though this step is never taken lightly.

In the vast majority of cases, to become a judge, you must first obtain a law degree and work as an attorney for a few years. While some states do allow you to become a judge if the governor appoints you to the job even without a law degree, very few governors would risk appointing a judge who doesn't have a degree in law and at least some experience in the courtroom.

Qualifications / Requirements

In most cases, you'll need to have a law degree to become a judge. Many states also require that you have a certain number of years of experience as an attorney before you can become a judge.

First Steps

Start by going to law school and learning all about the law. Get a job as a lawyer and then contact the governor's office or any other agency which appoints judges and let them know that you are interested in being considered to become a judge.


Check out these helpful resources to learn more about how to become a judge:

Bureau of Labor Statistics - Use their search box to get to a good description of what it takes to become a judge, along with other information.

Association of the Bar of the City of New York: Become a Judge - This is a much more comprehensive explanation of what it takes to become a judge; and while it's written specifically for the New York City court system, it does include a great deal of information which will be useful to anyone wishing to become a judge.

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