Judges and Hearing Officers

Summary

judges and hearing officers image
Judges and hearing officers research and apply laws to reach judgments or resolve disputes between parties.
Quick Facts: Judges and Hearing Officers
2015 Median Pay $109,010 per year
$52.41 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation 5 years or more
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 44,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -1% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2014-24 -400

What Judges and Hearing Officers Do

Judges and hearing officers apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. They also conduct pretrial hearings, resolve administrative disputes, facilitate negotiations between opposing parties, and issue legal decisions.

Work Environment

All judges and hearing officers are employed by the federal government or by local and state governments. Most work in courts. The majority work full time.

How to Become a Judge or Hearing Officer

Judges usually have law degrees and work experience as lawyers. However, some administrative law judge, hearing officer, and magistrate positions require only a bachelor’s degree.

Pay

The median annual wage for judges and hearing officers was $109,010 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of judges and hearing officers is projected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024. The number of federal and state judgeships is expected to remain steady because nearly every new position for a judge must be authorized and approved by a legislature.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for judges and hearing officers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of judges and hearing officers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about judges and hearing officers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Judges and Hearing Officers Do

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers
Judges preside over hearings and listen to the arguments of opposing parties.

Judges and hearing officers apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. They also conduct pretrial hearings, resolve administrative disputes, facilitate negotiations between opposing parties, and issue legal decisions.

Duties

Judges and hearing officers typically do the following:

  • Research legal issues
  • Read and evaluate information from documents, such as motions, claim applications, and records
  • Preside over hearings and listen to and read arguments by opposing parties
  • Determine if the information presented supports the charge, claim, or dispute
  • Decide if the procedure is being conducted according to the rules and law
  • Apply laws or precedents to reach judgments and to resolve disputes between parties
  • Write opinions, decisions, and instructions regarding cases, claims, and disputes

Judges commonly preside over trials and hearings of cases regarding nearly every aspect of society, from individual traffic offenses to issues concerning the rights of large corporations. Judges listen to arguments and determine if the evidence presented deserves a trial. In criminal cases, judges may decide that people charged with crimes should be held in jail until the trial, or they may set conditions for their release. They also approve search warrants and arrest warrants.

Judges interpret the law to determine how a trial will proceed, which is particularly important when unusual circumstances arise for which standard procedures have not been established. They ensure that hearings and trials are conducted fairly and that the legal rights of all involved parties are protected.

In trials in which juries are selected to decide the case, judges instruct jurors on applicable laws and direct them to consider the facts from the evidence. For other trials, judges decide the case. A judge who determines guilt in criminal cases may impose a sentence or penalty on the guilty party. In civil cases, the judge may award relief, such as compensation for damages, to the parties who win lawsuits.

Judges use various forms of technology, such as electronic databases and software, to manage cases and to prepare for trials. In some cases, a judge may manage the court’s administrative and clerical staff.

The following are examples of types of judges and hearing officers:

Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates preside over trials and hearings. They typically work in local, state, and federal courts.

In local and state court systems, they have a variety of titles, such as municipal court judge, county court judge, and justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings make up the bulk of these judges’ work.

In federal and state court systems, district court judges and general trial court judges have authority over any case in their system. Appellate court judges rule on a small number of cases, by reviewing decisions of the lower courts and lawyers’ written and oral arguments.

Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers usually work for local, state, and federal government agencies. They decide many issues, such as whether a person is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits or whether employment discrimination occurred.

Work Environment

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers
Judges do some of their work in courtrooms.

Judges and hearing officers held about 44,800 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most judges and hearing officers were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 49%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 42
Federal government 9

Judges and hearing officers do most of their work in offices and courtrooms. Their jobs can be demanding, because they must sit in the same position in the court or hearing room for long periods and give undivided attention to the process.

Some judges and hearing officers may be required to travel to different counties and courthouses throughout their state.

Work Schedules

Most judges and hearing officers work full time, but some may work additional hours to prepare for hearings.

Some courthouses have evening and weekend hours. In addition, judges have to be on call during nights or weekends to issue emergency orders, such as search warrants and restraining orders.

How to Become a Judge or Hearing Officer

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers
Judges must be able to listen well to the facts provided by opposing parties.

Judges and hearing officers typically must have a law degree and work experience as a lawyer.

Education

Although there may be a few positions available for those with a bachelor’s degree, a law degree typically is required for most jobs as a local, state, or federal judge or hearing officer.

In addition to earning a law degree, federal administrative law judges must pass a competitive exam from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Earning a law degree usually takes 7 years of full-time study after high school: 4 years of undergraduate study, followed by 3 years of law school. Law degree programs include courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing. For more information on how to become a lawyer, see the profile on lawyers.

Most judges and magistrates must be appointed or elected into their positions, a procedure that often takes political support. Many local and state judges are appointed to serve fixed renewable terms, ranging from 4 to 14 years. A few judges, such as appellate court judges, are appointed for life. Judicial nominating commissions screen candidates for judgeships in many states and for some federal judgeships. Some local and state judges are elected to a specific term in an election process.

For specific state information, including information on the number of judgeships by state, term lengths, and requirements for qualification, visit the National Center for State Courts.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most judges and hearing officers learn their skills through years of experience as practicing lawyers. Some states allow those who are not lawyers to hold limited-jurisdiction judgeships, but opportunities are better for those with law experience.

Training

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.

More than half of all states, as well as Puerto Rico, require judges to take continuing education courses while serving on the bench. General and continuing education courses usually last from a few days to 3 weeks.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most judges and hearing officers are required to have a law license. In addition, they typically must maintain their law license and good standing with their state bar association while working as a judge or hearing officer.

Advancement

Advancement for some judicial workers means moving to courts with a broader jurisdiction. Advancement for various hearing officers includes taking on more complex cases, practicing law, and becoming district court judges.

Important Qualities

Critical-thinking skills. Judges and hearing officers must apply rules of law. They cannot let their own personal assumptions interfere with the proceedings. For example, they must base their decisions on specific meanings of the law when evaluating and deciding whether a person is a threat to others and must be sent to jail.

Decisionmaking skills. Judges and hearing officers must be able to weigh the facts, to apply the law and rules, and to make a decision relatively quickly.

Listening skills. Judges and hearing officers evaluate information, so they must pay close attention to what is being said.

Reading skills. Judges and hearing officers must be able to distinguish important facts from large amounts of sometimes complex information and then evaluate the facts objectively.

Writing skills. Judges and hearing officers write recommendations and decisions on appeals and disputes. They must be able to write their decisions clearly so that all sides understand the decision.

Pay

Judges and Hearing Officers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates

$126,930

Judges and hearing officers

$109,010

Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers

$90,600

Legal occupations

$78,170

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers was $90,600 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $158,700.

The median annual wage for judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates was $126,930 in May 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $186,720.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for judges and hearing officers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $123,660
Federal government 122,260
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 80,330

Most judges and hearing officers work full time, and many often work additional hours to prepare for case hearings.

Some courthouses have evening and weekend hours. In addition, judges have to be on call during nights or weekends to issue emergency orders, such as search warrants and restraining orders.

Job Outlook

Judges and Hearing Officers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Legal occupations

5%

Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates

1%

Judges and hearing officers

-1%

Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers

-4%

 

Employment of judges and hearing officers is projected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024.

The number of federal and state judgeships is projected to remain steady because nearly every new position for a judge must be authorized and approved by a legislature.

However, budgetary constraints in federal, state, and local governments are expected to limit the ability of these governments to fill vacant positions or authorize new ones. Furthermore, budgetary concerns may limit the employment growth of hearing officers and administrative law judges working for local, state, and federal government agencies, despite the continued need for these workers to settle disputes.

In addition, the desire of parties to resolve disputes through mediation or arbitration, rather than litigation and trials, may adversely affect the demand for judges and hearing officers.

Job Prospects

The prestige associated with becoming a judge will ensure continued competition for these positions. Most job openings will arise as a result of judges and hearing officers leaving the occupation because of retirement, to teach, or because their elected term is over.

Employment projections data for judges and hearing officers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Judges and hearing officers

44,800 44,400 -1 -400

Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers

23-1021 15,000 14,500 -4 -500 [XLSX]

Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates

23-1023 29,700 29,900 1 200 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of judges and hearing officers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
arbitrators mediators and conciliators image

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators facilitate negotiation and dialogue between disputing parties to help resolve conflicts outside of the court system.

Bachelor's degree $58,020
Lawyers

Lawyers

Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes.

Doctoral or professional degree $115,820
Paralegals and legal assistants

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Associate's degree $48,810
Private detectives and investigators

Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, such as verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.

High school diploma or equivalent $45,610

Contacts for More Information

For more information about state courts and judgeships, visit

National Center for State Courts

For more information about federal judges, visit

Administrative Office of the United States Courts

For more information about judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel, visit

Federal Judicial Center

American Bar Association

The National Judicial College

O*NET

Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators, and Hearing Officers

Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Judges and Hearing Officers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/judges-and-hearing-officers.htm (visited May 05, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015