A bachelor’s degree and work experience are the minimum requirements
for a judgeship or magistrate position, but most workers filling
these positions also have law degrees.
Overall employment is projected to grow about as fast as the
average, but varies by occupational specialty.
Judges and magistrates are expected encounter competition
for jobs because of the prestige associated with serving on
Nature of the Work
Judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers apply the law
and oversee the legal process in courts according to local, State,
and Federal statutes. They preside over cases concerning every
aspect of society, from traffic offenses to disputes over the
management of professional sports to issues concerning the rights
of huge corporations. All judicial workers must ensure that trials
and hearings are conducted fairly and that the court safeguards
the legal rights of all parties involved.
The most visible responsibility of judges is presiding over trials
or hearings and listening as attorneys represent the parties present.
Judges rule on the admissibility of evidence and the methods of
conducting testimony, and they may be called on to settle disputes
between opposing attorneys. Also, they ensure that rules and procedures
are followed, and, if unusual circumstances arise for which standard
procedures have not been established, judges interpret the law
to determine the manner in which the trial will proceed.
Judges often hold pretrial hearings for cases. They listen to
allegations and determine whether the evidence presented merits
a trial. In criminal cases, judges may decide that persons charged
with crimes should be held in jail pending trial, or they may
set conditions for their release. In civil cases, they occasionally
impose restrictions on the parties until a trial is held.
In many trials, juries are selected to decide guilt or innocence
in criminal cases or liability and compensation in civil cases.
Judges instruct juries on applicable laws, direct them to deduce
the facts from the evidence presented, and hear their verdict.
When the law does not require a jury trial or when the parties
waive their right to a jury, judges decide cases. In such instances,
the judge determines guilt in criminal cases and imposes sentences;
in civil cases, the judge awards relief—such as compensation for
damages—to the parties to the lawsuit, called litigants. Judges
also work outside the courtroom in their chambers or private offices.
There, judges read documents on pleadings and motions, research
legal issues, write opinions, and oversee the court’s operations.
In some jurisdictions, judges also manage the courts’ administrative
and clerical staff.
Judges’ duties vary according to the extent of their jurisdictions
and powers. General trial court judges of the Federal and
State court systems have jurisdiction over any case in their system.
They usually try civil cases transcending the jurisdiction of
lower courts and all cases involving felony offenses. Federal
and State appellate court judges, although few in number,
have the power to overrule decisions made by trial court or administrative
law judges; appellate court judges exercise their power if
they determine that legal errors were made in a case or if legal
precedent does not support the judgment of the lower court. Appellate
court judges rule on a small number of cases and rarely have direct
contact with litigants. Instead, they usually base their decisions
on lower court records and on lawyers’ written and oral arguments.
Many State court judges preside in courts whose jurisdiction
is limited by law to certain types of cases. A variety of titles
are assigned to these judges; among the most common are municipal
court judge, county court judge, magistrate,
and justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors,
small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings constitute the bulk
of the work of State court judges, but some States allow these
judges to handle cases involving domestic relations, probate,
contracts, and other selected areas of the law.
Administrative law judges, sometimes called hearing
officers or adjudicators, are employed by government
agencies to make determinations for administrative agencies. These
judges make decisions, for example, on a person’s eligibility
for various Social Security or workers’ compensation benefits,
on protection of the environment, on the enforcement of health
and safety regulations, on employment discrimination, and on compliance
with economic regulatory requirements.
Arbitration, mediation, and conciliation—collectively called
appropriate dispute resolution (ADR)—are alternative processes
that can be used to settle disputes between parties. All ADR hearings
are private and confidential, and the processes are less formal
than a court trial. If no settlement is reached through ADR, no
statements made during the proceedings are admissible as evidence
in any subsequent litigation.
There are two types of arbitration—compulsory and voluntary.
During compulsory arbitration, opposing parties submit their dispute
to one or more impartial persons, called arbitrators, for a final
and nonbinding decision. Either party may reject the ruling and
request a trial in court. Voluntary arbitration is a process in
which opposing parties choose one or more arbitrators to hear
their dispute and submit a final, binding decision. Arbitrators
usually are attorneys or business persons with expertise in a
particular field. The parties identify, in advance, the issues
to be resolved by arbitration, the scope of the relief to be awarded,
and many of the procedural aspects of the process.
Mediation, or neutral evaluation, involves an attempt by the
parties to resolve their dispute with the aid of a neutral third
party. This process generally is used when the parties wish to
preserve their relationship. A mediator may offer suggestions,
but resolution of the dispute rests with the parties themselves.
Mediation proceedings also are confidential and private. If the
parties are unable to reach a settlement, they are free to pursue
other options. The parties usually decide in advance how they
will contribute to the cost of mediation. However, many mediators
volunteer their services, or they may be court staff. Courts ask
that voluntary mediators provide their services at the lowest
possible rate and that parties split the cost. Depending on the
type of case, court-referred community mediation centers may charge
a small fee to the parties involved in mediation.
Conciliation, or facilitation, is similar to mediation. The conciliator’s
role is to guide the parties to a settlement. The parties must
decide in advance whether they will be bound by the conciliator’s
recommendations; they generally share equally in the cost of the
Judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers do most of their
work in offices, law libraries, and courtrooms. Work in these
occupations presents few hazards, although sitting in the same
position in the courtroom for long periods can be tiring. Most
judges wear robes when they are in a courtroom. Judges typically
work a standard 40-hour week, but many work more than 50 hours
per week. Some judges with limited jurisdiction are employed part
time and divide their time between their judicial responsibilities
and other careers.
Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators usually work in private
offices or meeting rooms; no public record is made of the proceedings.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A bachelor’s degree and work experience usually constitute the
minimum requirements for a judgeship or magistrate position. A
number of lawyers become judges, and most judges have first been
lawyers. In fact, Federal and State judges usually are required
to be lawyers. About 40 States allow non lawyers to hold limited-jurisdiction
judgeships, but opportunities are better for those with law experience.
Federal administrative law judges must be lawyers and pass a competitive
examination administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Some State administrative law judges and other hearing officials
are not required to be lawyers.
Federal administrative law judges are appointed by various Federal
agencies, with virtually lifetime tenure. Federal magistrate judges
are appointed by district judges—the life-tenured Federal judges
of district courts—to serve in a U.S. district court for 8 years.
A part-time Federal magistrate judge’s term of office is 4 years.
Some State judges are appointed, but the remainder are elected
in partisan or nonpartisan State elections. Many State and local
judges serve fixed renewable terms ranging from 4 or 6 years for
some trial court judgeships to as long as 14 years or even life
for other trial or appellate court judgeships. Judicial nominating
commissions, composed of members of the bar and the public, are
used to screen candidates for judgeships in many States and for
some Federal judgeships.
All States have some type of orientation for newly elected or
appointed judges. The Federal Judicial Center, American Bar Association,
National Judicial College, and National Center for State Courts
provide judicial education and training for judges and other judicial-branch
personnel. General and continuing education courses usually last
from a few days to 3 weeks in length. More than half of all States,
as well as Puerto Rico, require judges to enroll in continuing
education courses while serving on the bench.
Training and education requirements for arbitrators, mediators,
and conciliators differ from those for judges. Mediators who practice
in State-funded or court-funded mediation programs usually must
meet specific training or experience standards, which vary by
State and court. In most States, individuals who offer private
mediation services do not need a license, certification, or specific
coursework; however, many private mediators and most of those
affiliated with mediation organizations and programs have completed
mediation training and agreed to comply with certain ethical standards.
For example, the American Arbitration Association (AAA) requires
mediators listed on its mediation panel to complete an AAA training
course, receive recommendations from the trainers, and complete
Training for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators is available
through independent mediation programs, national and local mediation
membership organizations, and postsecondary schools. In 2004,
16 colleges or universities in the United States offered master’s
degrees in dispute resolution or conflict management, and 2 offered
doctoral degrees. Many more schools offer conflict-management
specializations within other degree programs. Degrees in public
policy, law, and related fields also provide good background for
prospective arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators.
Judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers held 47,000 jobs
in 2004. Judges, magistrates, and magistrate judges held 27,000
jobs, all in State and local governments. Administrative law judges,
adjudicators, and hearing officers held about 16,000 jobs; 52
percent in State governments, 29 percent Federal Government, and
20 percent in local governments. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators
held another 5,200 jobs. Approximately 40 percent worked for State
and local governments. The remainder worked for labor organizations,
law offices, insurance carriers, and other private companies and
for organizations that specialize in providing dispute resolution
Overall employment of judges, magistrates, and other judicial
workers is projected to about as fast as average
for all occupations through 2014. Budgetary pressures at all levels
of government will hold down the hiring of judges, despite rising
caseloads, particularly in Federal courts. Most job openings will
arise as judges retire. However, additional openings will occur
when new judgeships are authorized by law or when judges are elevated
to higher judicial offices.
Public concerns about crime and safety, as well as a public willingness
to go to court to settle disputes, should spur demand for judges.
Both the quantity and the complexity of judges’ work have increased
because of developments in information technology, medical science,
electronic commerce, and globalization. The prestige associated
with serving on the bench will ensure continued competition for
judge and magistrate positions. However, a growing number of judges
and candidates for judgeships are choosing to forgo the bench
and work in the private sector, where pay is significantly higher.
This movement may lessen the competition somewhat. Becoming a
judge often is difficult because judicial candidates must compete
with other qualified people and because they frequently must gain
political support to be elected or appointed, and getting that
support can be expensive.
Employment of arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators is expected
to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through
2014. Many individuals and businesses try to avoid litigation,
which can involve lengthy delays, high costs, unwanted publicity,
and ill will. Arbitration and other alternatives to litigation
usually are faster, less expensive, and more conclusive, spurring
demand for the services of arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators.
Administrative law judges also are expected to experience average
growth in employment.
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates had median annual
earnings of $93,070 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $54,140 and $124,400. The top 10 percent earned more than
$141,750, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $29,920.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates in May 2004
were $111,810 in State government and $65,800 in local government.
Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers
earned a median of $68,930, and arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators
earned a median of $54,760.
In the Federal court system, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme
Court earned $208,100 in 2005, and the Associate Justices earned
$199,200. Federal court of appeals judges earned $171,800 a year,
while district court judges had salaries of $162,100, as did judges
in the Court of Federal Claims and the Court of International
Trade. Federal judges with limited jurisdiction, such as magistrates
and bankruptcy court judges, had salaries of $149,132.
According to a 2004 survey by the National Center for State Courts,
salaries of chief justices of State high courts averaged $130,461
and ranged from $95,000 to $191,483. Annual salaries of associate
justices of the State highest courts averaged $126,159 and ranged
from $95,000 to $175,575. Salaries of State intermediate appellate
court judges averaged $122,682 and ranged from $94,212 to $164,604.
Salaries of State judges of general jurisdiction trial courts
averaged $113,504 and ranged from $88,164 to $158,100.
Most salaried judges are provided health, life, and dental insurance;
pension plans; judicial immunity protection; expense accounts;
vacation, holiday, and sick leave; and contributions to retirement
plans made on their behalf. In many States, judicial compensation
committees, which make recommendations on the amount of salary
increases, determine judicial salaries. States without commissions
have statutes that regulate judicial salaries, link judicial salaries
to the increases in pay for Federal judges, or adjust annual pay
according to the change in the Consumer Price Index, calculated
by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Legal training and mediation skills are useful to those in many
other occupations, including counselors; lawyers; paralegals and
legal assistants; title examiners, abstractors, and searchers;
law clerks; and private detectives and investigators. See the
Careers database for information
on these careers.
Sources of Additional Information
Information on judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers
may be obtained from: