How to Become a Judge: Taking Steps Toward the Black Robe - Strategist
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How to Become a Judge: Taking Steps Toward the Black Robe

How many judges does it take to change a light bulb? Just one -- she holds the bulb still and the world revolves around her.

Just kidding of course. But if your career goals include donning a robe, deciding cases, and being called "Your Honor," you probably won't be able to pursue your first judgeship alone.

Networking and a reputation for legal acumen are necessary, no matter which route you take to become a judge. The process differs in each state, and you can't get away from politics. But here are some general guidelines to help guide you toward the bench.

Prerequisites

Most states (like California and New York, for example) seem to require 10 years of experience as a licensed attorney before you're even considered for a judgeship -- but it may be less, depending on local rules and the level of court. Some states require a duration of in-state law practice, and may impose residency requirements as well.

In general, there are two routes available to becoming a judge: by election, or by appointment.

By Appointment

To pursue an appointment, prospective judges usually submit applications to a selection committee, which vets the candidates' CV. In some states, you can submit supporting documents like letters of recommendation.

The committee then recommends the best candidates to a decision-maker -- for local courts, it could be a high-ranking local judge, a mayor, or even your state's governor.

The decision-maker makes a selection, but the process may not end there. Some states (like Connecticut) also require public hearings and confirmation by the legislature.

By Election

A more blatantly political route involves placing your name on the ballot. Check with your state for how to do this: Some jurisdictions require you to first submit your candidacy with a local political party, while others require the local bar association to evaluate candidates and share results with the public.

Judicial elections can be partisan or non-partisan, and special fundraising rules may apply.

Also keep in mind, campaigning for office may lead to professional-conduct violations if you're not careful. That's just one reason it may be wise to consult a local election attorney when you're ready to kick off your campaign to become a judge.

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