Hearing officers, often referred to as administrative law judges, work for various government agencies and are charged with the responsibility of making decisions that affect those agencies. They rule on matters such as an individual’s eligibility for various Social Security or worker’s compensation benefits, environmental protection, the enforcement of health and safety regulations, employment discrimination, or compliance with economic regulatory requirements. Hearing officers oversee cases at the local, State, and Federal level. Hearing officers have a responsibility to make sure that trials and other types of hearings and proceedings proceed fairly and that the rights of individuals and other parties are protected.
Hearing officers hold a great deal of responsibility and those seeking a career in the occupation should be ethical and responsible individuals. They need to have the ability to earn the confidence and trust of the public. Hearing officers should also have perseverance, creativity, and reasoning ability.
In 2002, hearing officers earned a median annual salary of $64,540.
Training and Education
The minimum requirements for hearing officer positions are a bachelor’s degree and work experience. Most hearing officers have a career as a lawyer before moving into judgeships. Federal and State judges are almost always required to have been lawyers. Some lower State jurisdictions allow judges to serve without having experience as a lawyer, but opportunity is limited without formal law experience. Federal hearing officers are appointed for lifetime tenures by Federal agencies. The majority of State hearing officers are elected in State elections, and many have fixed renewable terms that can range from 4 to 14 years. Newly elected or appointed hearing officers always go through some sort of orientation which is usually provided by The Federal Judicial Center, American Bar Association, National Judicial College, and National Center for State Courts. General and continuing education is typically required and lasts from a few days to 3 weeks.
In 2002, hearing officers held about 19,000 jobs. Most worked in State and local government.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of hearing officers is expected to increase more slowly than the average. This will be due to budgetary constraints in government, and most job openings will be the result of officers retiring. Occasionally new positions are created when mandated by new legislation. However, demand will not decrease for hearing officers, as the public will remain concerned about crime and safety as well as more willing to go to court to settle various kinds of disputes. Hearing officer positions, like judgeships, are highly prestigious, and competition among qualified applicants will remain keen. The competition will be lessened by the increasing number of qualified applicants who instead decide to seek work in the private sector.
To learn more about becoming a hearing officer, please visit our section on schools offering Legal Training for more information.