Judges preside over courts of law, interpret and enforce rules of procedure,
adjudicate civil and criminal cases and administer justice.
Before a case winds up in court, a judge will decide if it deserves to
be there. When presiding over pre-trial hearings, they listen to allegations.
Based on evidence presented, they decide if the case deserves to go to court.
In criminal cases, the judge decides if a defendant should be held in jail
pending trial. In some cases, they set conditions for temporary release. In
civil cases, the judge may put a restriction on the parties before the trial.
During a trial or hearing, it's the judge's duty to ensure that the case
is being conducted fairly and that justice is administered. They make sure
that all parties are following the proper rules and procedures. If an unusual
circumstance arises that has no standard procedures, the judge is free to
direct the proceedings based on their knowledge of the law.
"Judges have to know the law inside out," says Judge Moira Legere.
At trial, the judge decides the outcome of the case when the law doesn't
require a jury, or when the defendant decides to be tried without a jury.
However, when a jury decides the case, a judge can't rest easy. They must
instruct the jury on the law, direct them on how to use the facts and evidence
before them, and then hear their verdict.
Once a case has been decided, the judge sentences the convicted criminal
or awards compensation of damages.
Judges also work in appeals courts -- where defendants who have been tried
and convicted can seek a second opinion and may be able to get their decisions
Judges usually specialize in certain areas, such as civil, criminal or
family law. They also work at different levels of government -- in local,
state and federal courts.
Judges must have considerable experience as a lawyer or law professor before
being appointed. In order to move into senior court positions, they must have
a great deal of experience in that court.
Most judges work 40-hour weeks, but judges who have heavy caseloads may
end up working much longer hours. Don't count on easy work hours before becoming
a judge. Lawyers often work long hours, and the training in law school is
A judge may spend many hours outside the courtroom preparing for trial,
researching points of law and preparing rulings.
The president, with the consent of the Senate, appoints federal judges
for life. Federal administrative law judges are appointed by the various federal
agencies -- they virtually have tenure for life.
About half of all state judges are appointed, while the remainder are elected
in state elections.
Many state and local judges serve fixed renewable terms, ranging from four
to six years for some trial court judgeships to as long as 14 years or life
for other trial or appellate court judges.
Judicial nominating commissions, composed of members of the bar and the
public, are used to screen candidates for judgeships in many states, as well
as for some federal judgeships.
Being successful at law requires dedication and a lot of hard work. "I
suppose some people will go into it for the money, but you have to work hard
to build up a good practice," says Legere.
Judges must be dedicated to listening to both sides of the story. "There's
always two sides to a story and you have to listen to both," says Legere.
The job involves speaking to many people, so good communication skills
are important. "Learn to read well, write clearly and succinctly, and learn
to think critically," advises Judge Duane Benton in Missouri.