How to Become a Judge the Easier Way

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 01, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With apologies to all those who have tried really hard to become judges, there are easier ways to do it.

The reality is, the best law school grades, an illustrious trial practice, and a stellar reputation in the legal community alone won't qualify you to be a judge. How else can you explain that the U.S. Constitution requires none of the above to become a Supreme Court justice?

It comes down to this familiar adage: It's not what you know; it's who you know.

Law School

Of course, the traditional path to judgeship is through law school and law practice. U.S. News & World Report offers three tips to prepare for a judicial career while in law school:

  • Identify a school that connects students with judicial clerkships
  • Focus on developing legal research and writing skills
  • Research a school's job placement track record

By excellent performance in law school, you increase your chances for the career of your choice. A judicial clerkship or research attorney for a court is a great place to start. But these steps are as much about the people you work with as the work that you do.

Law Practice

In many states, an attorney needs 10 years of practice experience to be considered for a judicial appointment. Lawyers may also win a judgeships by election.

Whether by appointment or election, it helps to have trial experience -- from both ends of the counsel table. There should rarely be a judge who knows less about trial procedure, evidence or the law than attorneys who practice in the courtroom.

Those attorneys, incidentally, may determine your fate if you apply for a judicial appointment. As part of the vetting process, judicial commissions will seek feedback from your peers. Again, it's about who you know.

Law Reality

Alex Kozinski, the honorable judge of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, said there are simple steps to becoming a judge. Appointed to the federal bench at age 35, he said you have to make friends, ask people for favors, and get into politics.

"Judging is not a partisan process, but being fitted for the robe definitely is," he wrote for the National Law Journal. "Pick a party or a candidate and lend your support when it matters."

No non-lawyer has been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court since John Jay. But some of the brightest legal minds never became judges because they picked the wrong party or candidate.

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