Skip to Main Content
The Job

Lawyers become judges by either election or appointment, and preside over federal, state, county, or municipal courts. Judges administer court procedures during trials and hearings and establish new rules on questions where standard procedures have not previously been set. They read or listen to claims made by parties involved in civil suits and make decisions based on facts, applicable statutes, and prior court decisions. They preside over a variety of cases, from individual traffic offenses to issues related to large corporations. They examine evidence in criminal cases to see if it supports the charges. Judges listen to the presentation of cases, rule on the admission of evidence and testimony, and settle disputes between attorneys. They instruct juries on their duties and advise them of laws that apply to the case. They sentence defendants found guilty of criminal charges and decide who is responsible in non-jury civil cases. Besides their work in the courtroom, judges also research legal matters, study prior rulings, write opinions, and keep abreast of legislation that may affect their rulings.

Some judges have other titles such as magistrate, or justice, and preside over a limited jurisdiction. Magistrates hear civil cases in which damages do not exceed a prescribed maximum, as well as minor misdemeanor cases that do not involve penitentiary sentences or fines that exceed a certain specified amount.

Judges that work in state court systems may have the title municipal court judge, county court judge, or justice of the peace. These judges typically work on cases such as traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings. Federal and state court systems have district court judges and general trial court judges, who have authority over all cases in their systems. There are also appellate court judges, who review the decisions of lower courts and lawyers' written and oral arguments and make their rulings. Local, state, and federal government agencies employ administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers, who decide on issues such as a person's eligibility for workers' compensation benefits or whether employment discrimination has occurred.