Exploring this Job

Learn more about the work of judges by sitting in on a trial or two at your local or state courthouse. Try to focus mainly on the judge and the lawyer and take notes on what they do. Write down questions you have and terms or actions you do not understand. Then, talk to your school's career services office and ask for help in setting up a telephone or in-person interview with a judge. Prepare a list of questions in advance. Also, see if your school can help you participate in a job-shadowing program. Job shadowing programs allow you to follow a person in a certain career around for a day or two to get an idea of what goes on in a typical day. You may even be invited to help out with a few minor duties.

You can also search the Internet for general information about judges and current court cases. Read court transcripts and summary opinions written by judges on issues of importance today. Visit the Web sites of professional associations and organizations. Here are a few suggestions:

  • American Bar Association: Legal Career Center (https://www.americanbar.org/careercenter)
  • American Bar Association: How Courts Work (https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/resources/law_related_education_network/how_courts_work)
  • Law School Admission Council: Applying to Law School (https://www.lsac.org/applying-law-school)

After you have done some research and talked to a judge and you still think you are destined for this career, get a part-time or summer job in a courthouse or law office. Ask your school's career services office for help.

If you are already in law school, you might consider becoming a student member of the American Bar Association. Student members receive Student Lawyer, a magazine that contains useful information for aspiring lawyers. Sample articles from the magazine can be read at https://abaforlawstudents.com/stay-informed/student-lawyer-magazine.

The Job

Lawyers become judges by either election or appointment, and preside over federal, state, county, or municipal courts. Judges administer court procedures during trials and hearings and establish new rules on questions where standard procedures have not previously been set. They read or listen to claims made by parties involved in civil suits and make decisions based on facts, applicable statutes, and prior court decisions. They preside over a variety of cases, from individual traffic offenses to issues related to large corporations. They examine evidence in criminal cases to see if it supports the charges. Judges listen to the presentation of cases, rule on the admission of evidence and testimony, and settle disputes between attorneys. They instruct juries on their duties and advise them of laws that apply to the case. They sentence defendants found guilty of criminal charges and decide who is responsible in non-jury civil cases. Besides their work in the courtroom, judges also research legal matters, study prior rulings, write opinions, and keep abreast of legislation that may affect their rulings.

Some judges have other titles such as magistrate, or justice, and preside over a limited jurisdiction. Magistrates hear civil cases in which damages do not exceed a prescribed maximum, as well as minor misdemeanor cases that do not involve penitentiary sentences or fines that exceed a certain specified amount.

Judges that work in state court systems may have the title municipal court judge, county court judge, or justice of the peace. These judges typically work on cases such as traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings. Federal and state court systems have district court judges and general trial court judges, who have authority over all cases in their systems. There are also appellate court judges, who review the decisions of lower courts and lawyers' written and oral arguments and make their rulings. Local, state, and federal government agencies employ administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers, who decide on issues such as a person's eligibility for workers' compensation benefits or whether employment discrimination has occurred.