Job Duties

Judges preside over trials or hearings, listen to the arguments put forth by attorneys representing both sides of a dispute, rule on the evidence presented in court, settle attorney disputes regarding the proceedings, and generally determine the way the trial is run according to various rules and procedures. They hold pretrial hearings, decide whether a case will be heard, determine whether individuals should be held in jail prior to trials, set conditions for the release of individuals being held, and, in civil cases, impose certain restrictions on both parties before the trial is completed.

Judges oversee cases in courts of law and other legal processes at the local, State, and Federal level. The range of cases is as broad as society itself and may include everything from traffic offenses to disputes over the management of professional sports or the rights of corporations. Judges 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.

Job Skills

Judges 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. Judges should also have perseverance, creativity, and reasoning ability.


In 2002, judges earned a median annual salary of $94,070. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $24,250, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $138,300.

Training and Education

The minimum requirements for judge positions are a bachelor’s degree and work experience. Most judges 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 administrative law judges are appointed for lifetime tenures by Federal agencies. The majority of State judges are elected in State elections, and many have fixed renewable terms that can range from 4 to 14 years. Newly elected or appointed judges 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, judges held about 27,000 jobs. Most worked in State and local government.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of judges 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 judges retiring. Occasionally new positions are created when mandated by new legislation. However, demand will not decrease for judges, 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. Judgeships are highly prestigious positions, 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 judge, please visit our section on schools offering Legal Training for more information.