Earning A Seat On The Judge’s Bench: How Much Do Judges Make?

Even if some of us have never stepped inside a courtroom, we feel like we already know how they look, more or less. Thanks to legal dramas like “Kramer vs. Kramer”, “Legally Blonde“, “Suits”, and “How to Get Away with Murder” we know that people sit at the benches to watch the court proceedings beyond the rails. There is the defendant’s table, the plaintiff’s table, and the jury box in front of the room. Then, there’s also the witness stand, the clerk, and court reporter box.

While most legal dramas make the lawyers or attorneys look like the most interesting character, we overlook another important courtroom official: the judge.

Judges in these movies create an impression that it isn’t that hard, but their duties and responsibilities are more than sitting down and hitting a sound block with their gavels. So, let’s explore more information about the roles of judges in a court proceeding. What else do judges do? How much do judges make? And how much does a judge make an hour?

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A Brief History Of The Judiciary System

One of the very first recorded ancient versions of a judge was in the 12th century. During this time, court officials experienced settling different kinds of land disputes, and they were the advisers of the King of England. 

In this same century, Henry II established 12 local knights to help the judge settle land disputes. These practices were the origin of the current structure of the jury panel. In 1789, Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut authored the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the modern court system.

So, the next time you see a courtroom drama, remind yourself that it is the result of a thousand years of development until it evolved into the modern system we know of today.

What’s In It For Anyone Who Wants To Become A Judge?

brown wooden tables and chairs

A courtroom in session. Source: Unsplash

Annual Salary Of Judges

So, how much do judges make? Is it worth it? Judges earn a decent salary, but it’s a distressing career even though movies portray their lives a little differently.

Recently, the salaries of judges are constantly changing partly because of the ongoing pandemic. But the average annual salary of a judge is still more than that of most professions. Based on 2021 data, the lowest judges can earn in a year is $218,600, and the highest is $280,500. These figures have risen so much since 1968 when a judge can only earn an annual salary of $30,000 to $40,000.

There are also different kinds of salaries for different types of judges. The many kinds of judges like the district judges, circuit judges, associate justice judges, chief justice, and many more. By now, you might be asking yourself, ‘how much do judges make?‘’ for each of the four kinds. The district court’s salary is usually at the bottom end of the salary range ($218,600), while the chief justice is at the top ($280,500). Circuit judges earn an average annual salary of $231,800, and associate justice judges earn $268,300.

Hourly Rate Of Judges

If you’re currently considering becoming a judge because of those figures, you’re not alone. That’s enough to live a comfortable life. But, you might also be doing some math in your head. If you are asking yourself, ‘’how much does a judge make an hour?‘’ the answer is between $80 and $92.

A judge’s hourly rate would depend on several factors like educational background, certifications taken, skills, and years of experience. It means the longer and harder you work in this field, the higher your hourly rate will go.

Job Outlook

A modern courtroom. Source: unsplash.com

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the demand for judges will grow by 2% from 2019 to 2029. This projection is considered slower than average compared to other occupations. The state and federal budget cuts were the reason behind this slow growth.

However, due to the increasing crime rates and growing numbers of immigrants, disputes, and other cases that require a judge’s expertise, the demand for judges might slowly increase.

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What Do Judges Do?

Primary Duties And Responsibilities Of Judges

Seeing the average salaries of judges could make anyone want to consider a career in the judicial system. But, as we mentioned, they don’t earn it easily. Consider the high salary as compensation for the difficulty of their job.

In a nutshell, judges preside over court hearings and make decisions based on motions to ensure that every case follows the law. Besides that, these are also some of the other primary duties and responsibilities of a judge:

  • read court documents and identify any legal issues.
  • take part in the jury selection.
  • instruct and manage the jury during a trial.
  • observe the court proceedings to make sure it abides by the law.
  • maintain peace and order in the courtroom.
  • listen to witness testimonies and may ask them questions. 
  • listen to arguments from both the prosecuting and defending parties.
  • determine the truth among all the evidence, allegations, and testimonies to come to a ruling.
  • meet with legal counsel for further discussion about the case.
  • determine and impose the sentence on a defendant once found guilty.
  • determine the fees for any damages that the responsible party may have caused.
  • research legal issues.
  • come up with written documents for the case.

WATCH VIDEO: A Day In The Life: Circuit Judge His Honour Judge Avik Mukherjee

Other Jobs And Duties Of Judges

Order in the court. Source: unsplash.com

As you can see, judges don’t just sit, listen, and read out the verdicts for each case. They have various duties while on the judge’s bench and behind the scenes of every court proceeding.

The unspoken and harrowing part of any judge’s job is to act fair and decide who among the defendant and the plaintiff is telling the truth and who is not. It’s not an easy job, especially for judges who witness and hear testimonies with graphic details for horrible crimes.

Imagine seeing people’s reactions whenever a judge has to announce a verdict. Imagine the judges’ responsibility and there will always be a nagging feeling that makes them ask themselves, “Did I make the right decision?”. This question probably lingers in their minds, especially since 1% of the prison population or roughly 20,000 people are wrongly convicted and imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.

Do you want to know how to become a more successful lawyer? Check out our concise guide about it.

How To Become A Judge

If you’re still reading at this point, then you’ve probably made up your mind about becoming a judge. If none of their duties and responsibilities made you feel like you want to reconsider another career, then it would probably be the right time to discuss how you can become one.

You already know what you’ll be doing as a judge and how much you will get paid. Now, what will you need to make your way onto the judge’s bench? Here are some of the qualifications:

You Have To Earn A Bachelor’s Degree And Complete An Internship

Of course, you need a degree to become a judge. It’s one of those jobs requiring proper education, especially since you will be practicing the law. Depending on your degree, you can start applying for law school as soon as you earned. It would be easier if you have a degree in political science, criminal justice, and philosophy. If your degree isn’t related to law, your chosen law school may offer a pre-law program.

Having a related degree then applying for law school doesn’t guarantee that you could get in right away. It would help if you also had coursework in sociology, mass communications, and public speaking. Additionally, you should also get an internship program with a local court or a law practice. It’s a lot of work, and this is just the start.

You Have To Take The Law School Admission Test (Lsat)

You will need to take the Law School Admission Test during admission, which is an integral part of the process. This test is challenging, and it consists of five sections, and you will be given 35 minutes for each to complete it. After that, there will be an essay writing test. To pass this test, you have to get a score between 120 and 180. Good luck!

You Have To Attend Law School And Earn A Doctorate

So, you’ve passed the Law School Admission Test, and now, you can start looking for law schools and apply for them. Typically, law education lasts for three years. During your final year, you should complete coursework of your choice, and your options range from family law to environmental law. Once you have completed law school, you will earn a Juris Doctorate, the American law degree.

You Have To Pass The Bar Exam

Depending on the state and U.S. territories where you want to practice law, you have to pass a bar examination and meet other requirements before practicing law. Most states require you to pass the bar exam, which is most commonly two days long, consisting of multiple-choice questions, essay writing, and performance exams to test your knowledge in legal writing.

The first part of the test is the essays that aim to gauge your ability and knowledge of the federal and state laws. This may take one to two days to complete. The next part is the Multistate Bar Examination which consists of 200 standard questions. Again: good luck!

You Have To Create Your Curriculum Vitae

At this stage of your career, you’ve passed most of the tests – literally. Now, you can rest a bit and enjoy life, but you can also start looking for jobs right away. To do that, you have to make your curriculum vitae. A LinkedIn profile will work to get the attention of more potential employers and clients. You have to remember that your CV should give a solid impression so that an invitation for an interview will follow.

Read our guide on how to impress your potential employer with your skills

You Can Consider A Judicial Clerkship

This may not be a mandatory part of the process, but working as a judicial clerk means that you will work under the supervision of a judge. It’s like on-the-job training where you can assist a judge while they go about their duties. Pursuing a clerkship can give you an edge over other applicants and make you land a job faster.

You Have To Practice Law

After getting a job, you have to practice law for at least two years. You can do these in several ways, like working in public service as a public defender or prosecutor. Also, you can opt to work for private law practice. You may need to do case trials to have experience in courtroom proceedings before becoming a judge.

You Can Now Earn Your Judgeship

After a long and arduous process that could sometimes take years and even decades, you are now eligible to start becoming a judge. But, you have to either be elected or appointed to serve as a judge before you become one.

In most occasions, law practitioners will get appointed to become a judge. This can happen when a previously appointed judge steps down before a term ends.  In this instance, the court will temporarily appoint you as the judge. To be officially designated for the position, you need to be a shortlisted candidate and undergo an interview before being appointed. You can expect it to be a lifetime position if you get chosen as a federal judge.

Another way of becoming a judge is to run for an election and win. Each state has its own rules and regulations for how the elections would go and how long the elected judge could serve. Usually, an elected judge would serve for a minimum of four years and a maximum of 15 years. Reelection is also possible.

Do you want to know more about a job in the legal system? Check out some paralegal jobs near you.

Justice Is Blind

Lady Justice represents the impartiality of the law. Source: unsplash.com

Ultimately, the journey to becoming a judge takes a long time, but it is a gratifying job, especially if you’re going to do it not just for the money. It’s essential to practice law as fairly as possible in a world of injustice. Many people’s lives depend on a law that is practiced with fairness.

Like Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is an important quote from one of the most influential activists in The U.S. It is a commentary about the importance of justice and how we can only achieve it when everyone has access to it.

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Leonard hails from the Philippines and works as a freelancer, author, poet, and visual artist. He discovered his passion for writing and painting at an early age, leading him to pursue a degree in Mass Communications. He worked at a few places after college before landing what he thought was a "life-changing" writing career. He was also the lead singer and songwriter for a band. His career as an English teacher, poet, and visual artist took him to Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2018. You can see more of his work on Instagram at @anumalei.