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 reliefsuch as compensation for damagesto 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 conciliationcollectively 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 arbitrationcompulsory 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 conciliation.
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.
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 judgesthe life-tenured Federal judges of district courtsto 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 an apprenticeship.
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 services.
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.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,
Judges, Magistrates, and Other Judicial Workers, on the Internet at
(visited June 21, 2006).