How to Become a Judge
The course to becoming a judge can take many years and requires an extensive legal background. On the state level, judges are needed in small trial courts, appellate courts, family courts and the Supreme Court. The same is true on the federal level, where judges are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. Some states have age requirements for judges, and all states and the federal government require judges to be citizens of the United States.
Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
The first stepping stone in achieving a position as a judge is to attend a four-year college or university and receive a bachelor’s degree. Law schools are generally unconcerned with a candidate’s undergraduate major so long as the candidate achieved stellar grades, graduated top of the class, and participated in extracurricular and philanthropic activities. Many eventual law students study political science or pre-law, but this is generally not required.
Attend Law School
You may choose to enter law school immediately after graduation from college, or gain some work experience before heading to law school. Acceptance to law school is difficult, and admissions committees generally take only a handful of qualified applicants each year. While in law school, get involved with at least one extracurricular activity, such as moot court, a trial advocacy team or alternative dispute resolution competitions. Writing an article or serving on a scholarly journal is also helpful for students looking to hone their research and writing abilities, a skill that is highly necessary for service in a judgeship.
Accept a Clerkship Position
After law school but prior to entering the practice of law, many students compete for a coveted position as a judicial law clerk. Clerkships are available on the state and federal levels, with federal clerkships considered highly prestigious. Working as a judicial law clerk is not mandatory for those wishing to be judges, but it serves as a valuable networking opportunity and gives recent graduates an opportunity to work closely with a judge to learn about the position.
Nearly every judge on the bench today has worked in the practice of law for at least a few years prior to accepting a position in the judiciary. Some judges work as prosecutors or public defenders, while others choose to pursue careers in the private sector. It is not uncommon for judges to have worked heavily in the area of law they now preside over. For example, many family law judges worked as family lawyers prior to accepting their position, although this is not mandatory.
Appointment or Election
Each state has different rules with regard to the selection of judges. Some states hold general elections, while others leave it to the legislature to appoint a judge. The federal government uses the appointment system, and the current president is responsible for selecting judges for vacant positions, subject to Senate approval. The president is also responsible for appointing federal bankruptcy judges as well. Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, while state judges usually serve for set terms.