What does a Judge do?

Judges research and apply laws to resolve disputes between parties, reach judgments, and oversee the legal process in courts. They conduct pretrial hearings, resolve administrative disputes, and issue legal decisions.

Watch a video to learn what a judge does.

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Judges and hearing officers are employed by the federal government or by local and state governments and mostly work full time and in courts.

How to Become a Judge

Judges typically require a law degree and have experience as a lawyer. A federal administrative law judge must also pass a competitive exam from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. A law degree takes 7 years of full-time study after high school which breaks down to 4 years of undergraduate school followed by 3 years of law school. Law degree programs have courses in contracts, property law, constitutional law, legal writing, and civil procedure. Most magistrates and judges must be elected or appointed to their positions, which may require political support. Many state and local judges are appointed to serve fixed renewable terms ranging from 4-14 years. There are a few judges that have the appointment for life, like appellate court judges.

Judges typically learn through years of experience while practicing law. All states have some orientation for newly elected judges and more than half of all states require judges to take continuing education courses while serving on the bench. Most judges and hearing officers are required to be licensed and must maintain their license and good standing with their state association.

Job Description of a Judge and Hearing Officer

A judge typically researches legal issues and evaluates pertinent information from documents filed. They preside over hearings, read, and listens to arguments by opposing sides. Judges and hearing officers determine if the information presented supports the dispute, charge, or claim. They determine if the hearing is being conducted according to the rules and the law. They apply precedents or laws to resolve disputes between opposing parties and reach a judgment.

Judges instruct juries on applicable laws and direct them to consider facts based on evidence. A judge that determines guilt in criminal cases may impose a penalty or sentence on the guilty party, or in civil cases, award compensation to the party that wins the lawsuit.

Judge Career Video Transcript

One of our most important rights —the right to a fair trial rests on the shoulders of judges and hearing officers. They conduct pretrial hearings, resolve administrative disputes, facilitate negotiations between opposing parties, and issue legal decisions. Judges hear cases that range from traffic offenses to the rights of large corporations. Before a trial, they often review documents, research legal issues, and listen to arguments to determine if a trial is warranted. Depending on the case, judges either instruct jurors on the law and guide them in considering the evidence, or decide the case directly, determining whether a sentence or penalty is justified. Critically, they ensure fair proceedings so that the legal rights of all involved parties are protected.

Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers operate outside the courts— they work for government agencies, on issues such as determining eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits or verifying a case of employment discrimination. Judges and hearing officers work for state, local, and federal governments. Hours are full-time, sometimes with evening and weekend hours and on-call duty for emergencies. Although a few positions require only a bachelor’s degree, a law degree, license, and years of work experience as a lawyer are typically required for judges or hearing officers. Some positions are elected. Others are appointed for terms lasting from four years to life.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Judges and Hearing Officers.

National Center for O*NET Development. 23-1023.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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