Judges are among the most respected people in the country. They must be fair-minded and believe in justice for all.
The path to becoming a judge is lengthy and tough, so you must be goal-oriented and driven for success. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to become a judge, here’s a synopsis of the educational requirements and experience needed.
Educational requirements to become a judge
Attend the best four-year undergraduate university you can, but don’t worry if you can’t get into Harvard or Yale. Participate in extracurricular groups, such as the debate team, or writing for the school’s newspaper will look good to law schools.
Moreover, students can obtain an undergraduate degree in many different fields, but the typical majors are political science, history or sociology. Additionally, students with majors in business and economics will often pursue a law degree as well.
It’s important to include classes in government and those that highlight writing and researching skills. Just make sure you study well for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which you need to pass in order to apply to law schools.
Typically, the higher you score on the LSAT, your acceptance chances to a prestigious law school increases. First-year students begin with classes on the fundamentals of law, like civil procedure and legal philosophy.
In the final two years, students can take more electives in specialized fields, such as tax law or family law. However, it’s also important to get some practical experience during this time, so keep on the lookout for local law firm internships. The career services office at your school should be able to help you as well.
The bar exam
After graduating from law school, you need to pass the written bar exam before you can practice law. Each state has different requirements, so be sure to take the exam in the state where you plan to practice.
It’s wise to take a bar preparatory class to help you get ready. Additionally, it makes sense to take the exam as soon as you can after you graduate. This is to ensure the information is still fresh in your mind. However, if you do not pass the exam the first time, you can always retake it.
In order to become a judge, you must first gain experience as an attorney. There is no set criteria regarding how many years of experience is mandatory. However, an aspiring candidate for a judgeship should have an extensive background in the courtroom. This could be either as a prosecutor or an attorney employed by the government.
This will allow you to become more familiar and comfortable with the courtroom setting. Additionally, current judges and lawyers will get to know you and see how you conduct yourself.
Qualities of a good judge
A judge must have certain qualities in order to earn respect. Judge Michael Tawil, who serves the court in the state of New York, states that a good judge should have three major qualities. They include the ability to be impartial and fair, holds beliefs in justice for all and must be able to treat all litigants with dignity and respect.
Judges must also exhibit patience in stressful situations. They should also treat all members of the court with respect, including judicial assistants, bailiffs and court reporters.
Types of judges
The court system has different types of judges at different levels.
Circuit court: Associate judges
Associate judges at the circuit court level have limitations as to what cases they can hear. They can preside over various cases, but must require approval from the state Supreme Court to preside over felony cases.
In most cases, these judges have to travel within their judicial circuit to preside over cases. Depending on the state, the term of elective service is four years, to which retention elections would take place.
Circuit court: Circuit judges
Circuit judges have the ability to preside over cases in their circuit or choose to preside over cases in their county of residence. These judges elect a Chief Judge for each circuit.
The term of office for circuit judges is six years, with retention elections taking place.
The nomination to fill appellate court judge vacancies are rare. Most appellate court judges have prior service as a circuit court judge or as a lawyer.
These lawyers preside over appeals to cases that took place at the circuit level, in which a three-judge panel decide on each case.
Their role at this level to either uphold the application of the law or reverse the trial decision at the circuit level.
In rare cases, they can also remand the case back to circuit court for a new trial due to substantive errors in the application of the law.
State Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in each state. All seven seats are an appointable position, with different rules determining the locality of said justices. For example, the Illinois Supreme Court requires that three of seven justices must come from the First Appellate Judicial District in Cook County.
These judges elect a Chief Justice.
State Supreme Court justices preside over appeal cases brought up from the appellate courts. In rare instances, they can place a moratorium on death sentences. Additionally, they can allow direct appeals in other cases. A majority decision in each state Supreme Court comprises of four judges.
These judges serve within U.S. district courts. The cases they preside over are set by the district court judges above them.
Federal district court
Depending on the state, there are at least three U.S. District Court districts. These judges preside over trial cases on civil and criminal offenses.
Federal court of appeals
These judges serve in a capacity similar to state appellate judges. Discrepancies in sentencing brought forth in a U.S. district court decision can file for an appeal here.
U.S. Supreme Court
When all else fails, you take the cases to the highest court in the land – the U.S. Supreme Court.
This nine-judge body, led by a Chief Justice, is the ultimate decision-making court at the highest level. There is no higher court for appeal.
All Federal judge vacancies are usually determined by an appointment from the President of the United States.
Each judge takes an oath of office to administer impartial justice for all. It would be wise advice for everyone to follow.