How Do You Become a Judge?

If you’re a fan of daytime court television or crime shows, you’ve probably wondered how you can become a judge. Wielding a gavel is not an easy task, but the path to gaining that power is straightforward. You’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree, successfully pass law school and your state’s bar exam and then be recognized as a smart, capable attorney with a passion for public service.

Undergraduate Major

Although no specific college degree is required to be a judge, some majors will help you make your way to the bench. Since you have to graduate law school and become a licensed attorney before becoming a judge, you should consider helpful pre-law majors like English, political science and philosophy. These degrees emphasize critical thinking and writing, skills you’ll need during law school. Other areas of study like theater and communications will help your performance in the courtroom. If you’re committed to a career as a judge, minoring in a performance-based subject is a smart move.


You don’t have to pass a qualification test to become a judge, but you will have to do well on several important exams on your journey to the bench. First, you’ll need a high score on the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, to be accepted into a juris doctorate program. Once you’ve finished your three years of legal study, you will then have to take your state’s bar exam. This test is grueling, and few takers succeed on their first try. For example, California’s latest data reported a 35.7% bar exam pass rate, according to The Recorder. If you’re not a good test-taker, you can still achieve your goal of becoming a judge by using tutoring services, test preparation classes and study guides to raise your chances of success on the LSAT and bar exam.

Can You Become a Judge Without Going to Law School?

Official, full-time judges must be licensed attorneys. In some states with crowded civil documents, non-attorneys are able to hear small claims court cases as an emergency matter. If you’re interested in a career as a judge, but don’t want to attend law school, you could look into work as a mediator. You’d help disputing parties resolve their arguments outside of the courtroom.

Do You Have to Be a Politician to Become a Judge?

Some judges are elected officials who must campaign, raise funds and convince voters to choose them for public office. Elected judges must also build close relationships with their area’s attorney associations; winning the support of both local prosecutors and defense attorneys requires a strong sense of the law and an engaging personality. However, many judges are appointed to their positions. For example, Judge Judy Sheindlin, who is currently one of the richest judges in the country with a net worth of $290 million, became a judge when she was appointed to the bench in New York City’s family court system, according to Forbes.

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While you likely won’t build the same wealth as Judge Judy, you will enjoy a rewarding salary and a sense of satisfaction from helping fellow citizens resolve their legal difficulties as a judge. Reach out to law schools in your area to see if any offer services tailored to students who want to become a judge.