What degree do I need to become a Judge?

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Who wouldn’t want to be a judge? You get to wear those spiffy robes, swing a mean gavel, and make pronouncements that become part of history. Plus, you get to sit higher than everyone else in the courtroom.

Well, hold your horses, there. Have you gone to law school yet? Have you passed the bar yet? Have you practiced law for at least a few years, and made a great reputation for yourself? No? Then let’s back it up a few steps.


Let’s assume you have a bachelor’s degree in something appropriate – political science, history, social science, economics, business, or even English. Hope you did an internship with a law office, because experience in the field makes a huge difference in a law school’s interest. You have to show them you want in.

Once you get into law school, you’ll take courses in things like:

  • Clinical Practice
  • Contract Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Legal History
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Torts
  • Analytical Methods

These classes will be tough. Many law courses follow the Socratic method – the professor picks a person out of the class, asks them questions, and engages them in a dialogue until the student runs out of answers. Then on to the next. It’s high-pressure, and it will break down all but the most determined student. Plus, it prepares you for what a real courtroom will be like.

But you don’t want to just be the lawyer going back and forth with the judge. You want to be the Big Kahuna, asking the hard questions from the bench. Here’s the next step.

Becoming a Judge

Pass the bar exam. Practice for a few years at least. During that time, get to know everyone important in the legal community in your area. We mean everyone. You’re going to need all the friends you can get. Make a good reputation for yourself. Make sure everyone in local and regional law and politics knows your name.

Then, fill out an application. Yeah, it’s that easy.

Just kidding. That’s just the start. That application will ask you a lot of hard questions, and you will have to answer them honestly, even if they’re embarrassing, because a lie will sink you. For many judgeships, you’ll be appointed by the legislature or the bar association (depending on the level of judge and the area you’re applying in). Expect to get turned down, maybe a few times. And each time, get to know more people. Make friends in politics, because often the good word of a state senator or another judge is the key to getting the appointment.

For some seats, you have to go through an election. That’s a whole other ballgame, because you have to get out there and campaign. Knock on doors. Hold fundraisers. Beg wealthy people for money and support. Take a good picture for the posters. Don’t say anything stupid. Kiss babies.

Once you get appointed or elected, you’ll have to spend some time training, mainly learning codes of conduct and observing other judges. But soon enough, you’ll have the gavel in your hand, and you’ll be well on your way to your own daytime court show.


With the responsibility of being a judge, you have to expect to get paid. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median pay for a judge in 2012 was a little over $100,000, though it depends on the level (Superior Court, Court of Appeals, District Court, or Supreme Court). In some areas, the salary comes closer to $200,000. And some judgeships are appointed for life, so there’s plenty of job security there.

Additional Resources:

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Lawyer?

20 Non-Law Firm Jobs with a Law Degree

Top 25 Law Schools