How to Become a Judge

Judges perform some of the most important roles in the legal process. They preside over trials and court hearings, uphold the rights of individuals in legal proceedings, and supervise the legal process. A judge ensures that a trial is conducted according to established procedures, including which evidence is permissible in court and how testimony is given. For criminal trials that are not held in front of a jury, a judge decides whether a defendant is innocent or guilty; similarly, for civil cases, judges determine which party is liable and the amount of fair compensation. In this article, we’ll cover how you can become a judge.

Steps to Becoming a Judge

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Step 2: Earn a Juris Doctorate Degree
Step 3: Pass a Bar Exam
Step 4: Gain Experience as an Attorney
Step 5: Obtaining a Judgeship
Step 6: Complete (and Continue) Training

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a judge starts in college. An aspiring judge doesn’t necessarily need to pick a specific major for attaining their bachelor’s degree. However, many of those looking ahead for a career in the legal field will focus on degrees that are more applicable to being accepted to law school. These majors commonly include business, criminal justice, history, political science, philosophy, and so forth.

Step 2: Earn a Juris Doctorate Degree

After attaining a bachelor’s degree, aspiring judges must follow the career path of an attorney. Therefore, they will attend an American Bar Association-accredited law school, where there’ll be awarded a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree. This process generally takes 3 years.

Step 3: Pass a Bar Exam

Once an individual has earned a JD degree, prospective attorneys must apply for admission to the bar in their state/ jurisdiction where they wish to practice law. This requires passing the bar exam, which is a series of tasks that ensures an attorney can perform the most basic of tasks required by an attorney.

Step 4: Gain Experience as an Attorney

Because judges typically “police” the behavior of the trial and attorneys, most judges work as lawyers before acquiring their judgeship. This gives them first-hand and relevant experience to resolve common disputes in court, as well as conducting legal research, drafting court documents, and so forth.

Step 5: Obtain a Judgeship

To become a judge, a lawyer must be appointed or elected by a judicial nominating commission or high-ranking politicians (i.e. senators, governors). An attorney applies for a judgeship by submitting their name for consideration. If the person has a strong history of legal practice and support from politicians/judges, they may be appointed. As a career, many judges have fixed and renewable terms of office; however, some—especially on the federal level—can be appointed to life-long terms.

Step 6: Complete (and Continue) Training

Once a judge has been elected/appointed, they may be required to complete training programs to ensure that they are educated on the newest developments of the law. As a trainee, judges participate in court trials, complete online exercises, and review legal publications to ensure that they are up to the demands of the job. Judges are required to continually complete education courses throughout their careers to stay abreast of the legal changes.

These programs may be state-administered by legal organizations like the American Bar Association, National Center for State Courts, and the National Judicial College; for federal judges, the Federal Judicial Center provides training for federal judges (and other federal court personnel).

If you want some more tips on how you can get started on becoming a judge, here is a great video I found for you to view.

Proving Negligence

picture of negligence

Negligence is the failure to take the proper care that a reasonable person would take. The law of negligence is important because it provides a civil remedy for behavior that doesn’t rise to the level of criminal. It creates an incentive to behave carefully and ensures that those who fail to take reasonable care suffer repercussions. Additionally, negligence claims can provide damages for those who are the victim’s of negligence. Many times these damages are necessary to pay off bills that a victim incurred as a result of another’s negligence.

A common example of negligence would be a driver that fails to reduce his speed in icy conditions. While the speed limit may be 45 mph on a regular day, a reasonable person would slow down because they recognize that driving 45 mph may endanger other drivers on the road. The driver that fails to slow down risks colliding with other vehicles on the road.

Elements of Negligence

There are four elements that must be proven in order to prevail on a claim of negligence. First, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. There are many different ways that a duty may arise, but the broad rule is that an actor has a duty to exercise reasonable care whenever their conduct creates a risk of physical harm to another. In the traffic example above, the driver owes a duty of care to other drivers on the road.

Once a plaintiff establishes that the defendant owed them a duty of care, they must prove that the defendant breached that duty of care. This is simply providing evidence that defendant failed to use reasonable care on a particular occasion. For example, the driver breached his duty of care to other drivers by failing to reduce his speed in icy conditions.

Next, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions were the cause of his injuries. This step includes proving that the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s breach and that a reasonable person would have anticipated it was a potential consequence. Continuing with the example from before, if the driver was driving slower than the collision would not have occurred. Furthermore, it is foreseeable to a reasonable driver that a car accident was a potential consequence.

Finally, a plaintiff must request specific damages that are logically connected to the harm that they suffered. Damages are calculated in varying ways depending on the jurisdiction. That being said, damages from negligence claims can range from hundreds to millions of dollars.

Billable Hours

Most people understand that a client will be expected to pay a hefty fee for an attorney’s advice. However, most people don’t understand exactly how that fee is calculated. Since legal advice is becoming increasingly expensive, it is important for clients to understand how they are being billed. This helps to protect the client from overpaying as well as the attorney from committing an ethical violation.

What is a Billable Hour?

Attorneys bill clients depending on the number of hours that they work on a client’s case. On average, attorneys bill approximately 1800 hours per year. However, many firms encourage attorneys to bill more by providing financial incentives for exceeding the 1800-hour bench march. This is commonly referred to as the “golden handcuffs.” This means that an attorney who bills feels pressure to work more hours in order to make more money.

image of billable hours

Most attorneys divide their time into increments of 6 minutes and then round up as necessary. For example, A calls a witness for C’s case but no one answers the telephone. A then leaves a voicemail for the witness. In total, this task only took A 5 minutes. However, A will still bill C for 6 minutes. While this is common, there are many different billing practices that vary depending on the law firm and attorney.

Controversy

Billable hours are controversial for several reasons. First, billable hours must be tracked methodically. This means that attorneys frequently spend as much time calculating and logging billable hours as they spend working on a client’s case. Second, billable hours encourage law firms to overwork their attorneys, even though the attorney will not receive the total amount that they bill. Generally, firms divide up the billable returns among the partners and associates. Third, the billable system encourages fraud among attorneys. Many attorneys over bill clients and put themselves in risk of criminal and civil sanctions as a result of the system.

Contractual Billable Hours

Whenever someone hires a private attorney, there is generally a contract that governs the payment. This contract will specifically spell out the increments that the attorney bills, how the attorney keeps track of billables, what work a client can expect to have billed and the payment schedule. Contracts like this are important so that both the client and the attorney understand the procedure in advance of any payments. Furthermore either party can refer to the legally binding contract to resolve future disputes.