Judges and magistrates preside over courts of law and review cases ranging from traffic violations to criminal offenses to corporate disputes. As experts of the law, they are responsible for making decisions on the outcome of a case after reviewing all of the relevant facts, evidence and arguments presented. Judges and magistrates ensure that hearings and trials are carried out in a fair manner, and that the legal rights of the parties involved are protected. They may hear cases in civil, appellate, criminal or juvenile courts at the local, state or federal level.
During a trial, judges and magistrates listen to arguments presented by attorneys and prosecutors. They make rulings based on evidence, testimonies and their interpretation of the law, while also ensuring that proper procedures and rules are followed. Judges and magistrates also have to maintain a code of ethics and objectivity when deciding on whether a party is guilty or innocent in civil and criminal cases. In jury trials, judges guide jurors on the applicable laws and educate them on analyzing facts based on evidence in order to come to a verdict.
Judges and Magistrates Job Summary
- Judges working at the state and federal level are required to be attorneys, which means that they must hold a law degree and have passed a state bar exam.
- Although most judges work 40 hours per week or more, in some states judges with limited jurisdiction can hold part-time positions.
- To stay current on changes to the law, judges must take continuing education courses on a regular basis.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), competition for judge seats will remain high.
Work Environment for Judges and Magistrates
Most judges and magistrates work in offices, courtrooms and law libraries. There are not many physical hazards except for sitting in the same position for many hours, which may be tiring. Judges typically wear a robe when in the courtroom. While many work 40 hours per week, those with heavy workloads may work 50 or more hours a week. Some judges with limited jurisdiction may work part-time.
Education, Training and Career Path for Judges
While the minimum requirement for judges and magistrates is a bachelor’s degree and experience, most were previously attorneys and therefore have attended law school. In most cases, that means they hold a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and passed the bar exam within their state. Federal and state judges are generally required to be attorneys. Some states allow individuals who are not attorneys to have limited jurisdiction; however, those with a law degree and experience generally have the best job opportunities.
Orientation programs are available in all states for judges and magistrates who have just been elected or appointed. Most states require them to take continuing education courses to stay updated on changes to the law. This type of training is available through classes and seminars led by legislators.
Judges and magistrates are elected or appointed to their positions, which involves garnering political support. Federal administrative judges are appointed by a federal agency. A district judge appoints a federal magistrate judge. State judges are usually elected, but can also be appointed. Local and state judges serve terms that can be renewed every four to six years or, in the case of certain trial court judge positions, 14 years or life terms. A judicial nominating commission – which is comprised of the public and members of the bar – is involved in the screening process for these positions in many states.
Employment Figures, Career Outlook and Earnings for Judges and Magistrates
According to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), judges and magistrates held approximately 26,350 jobs in May 2009. A little more than half work for local governments, while the rest work for state governments.
Employment in this field is forecasted by the BLS to grow more slowly than average compared to other occupations due to budgetary limitations at all government levels. Competition for judge and magistrate jobs will remain high.
BLS records for May 2009 indicate that the average annual salary for judges and magistrates was $103,990. The middle 50% earned between $56,390 and $142,970. While the lowest 10% had an yearly salary of $33,130 or less, the highest 10% earned upwards of $166,400 annually.