Do You Have To Be A Lawyer To Be A Judge?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

Judges are the most important role in the complex legal system. They hold responsibilities such as overseeing judicial proceedings and ultimately determining someone’s guilt or innocence. A responsible but very rewarding role, being a judge is one of the most upheld jobs in our society. Wouldn’t it be great to be one?

Whilst there are many people who would love to be a judge at some point in their lives, not many know how to actually get to that point. Many feel the role is too out of reach of their social class but that simply is not the case. 

What Qualifications Do You Need To Become A Judge?

As with most industries, being a judge requires you to go to University. Most current judges will have a law degree and would have practiced as attorneys. When it comes to applying for law school, there are no real requirements in terms of your undergraduate study. However, it is still important to obtain a degree in a relevant subject such as politics, legal studies, criminal justice or business. 

Law school is a very important step on the way to becoming a lawyer. The law school that you choose to attend is important as it needs to be accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). If you choose to study full time, the degree will take three years to complete. After obtaining your J.D. degree, you can sit for the bar exam. To become an attorney, you need to pass this exam.

Types Of Judges

If you are heavily interested in becoming a judge, you will need to work as an attorney in order to gain a reputation as a respectable lawyer. This will allow you to become familiar within a court and will help you gain connections to move forward as a judge. 

As you develop as an attorney, you will understand that there are different types of judges. These are federal court judges, state court judges and administrative law judges. Each role differs in their requirements and the route that you have to take to achieve your goals.

Federal Court Judges

Despite there being no specific criteria for becoming a federal judge, the majority have obtained a law degree and had experience practicing law. Under federal judges, there are several types which includes:

Magistrate Judge: Magistrate courts belong as part of the U.S. district court system. They are special courts created by congress and only handle specific types of criminal and civil cases. These judges will be appointed by the President with the consent of the senate. Magistrate judges will spend around 15 years in office.

U.S. District Court Judge: The U.S. currently has 94 district courts. Each state will have one district court and larger states will be required to have more. District courts also have more than one judge to oversee proceedings. The largest states may have over 20 judges within one district. Similar to magistrate courts, the judges are appointed by the president under the advice of a judicial review panel. 

Court of Appeals Judge: These judges will hear cases that involve appeals. Again, they are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate.

Supreme Court Judge: The Supreme Court is the final deciding body, hence the name. Located in D.C. , the court is comprised of nine justices and one Chief Justice will manage the others. The President again will be in charge of appointments and these will be improved by the Senate. Judges will have no term limit and the appointment will usually be made after a long debate in the Senate. 

State Court Judges

Being appointed as a State Court Judge is a different process compared to Federal Judge appointments. States can determine their own rules for hiring and appointing judges. As an example, a state may require their next potential judge to have lived in the state for a certain amount of time, be a specific age and to have practiced law for a certain amount of time. 

States will also determine the amount of time that you will serve as a judge. This will vary depending on the level of court and the district. At a state level, you can become a judge either by merit selection, election or appointment. 

Merit selections are based on past history and performances and are designated by a state legislative committee. A judge election will either be non-partisan or partisan. Lastly, a state judge can be appointed by the state’s governor or legislature. 

Administrative Law Judges

The role of an administrative law judge is to oversee decisions that concern administrative hearings. The Social Security Administration is the largest employer of these judges.

Applicants must follow the Administrative procedure act of 1946, which requires them to be an attorney, to have any chance of being appointed. You would then have to sit a four hour exam, take an oral exam and then finally be approved by a panel of legal peers. 

Alternative Routes And Final Thoughts

In summary of the question that brought you to this article, you do not need to be a lawyer to become a judge. Some judges do not even have law degrees or even have a job within law. Despite the majority of Federal Judges being previous attorneys, it is possible for the President to appoint a non-attorney and the senate will still approve them to become a judge.

At the state level, it is easier to become a judge without being a lawyer first. As an example, in the state of Montana, a non-lawyer can become a justice of the peace. This individual will have the power to send certain defendants to jail for up to six months in rural areas. The only requirement for this position is that it has approval from voters in the jurisdiction.