Woman judge sits at her desk wearing a black robe in a courtroom with a flag and wood paneled wall behind her brown chair
Career Clusters: Law & Public Safety

What you need to know


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.

What does a judge do?

Judges and hearing officers are employed by the federal, state, or local governments and do most of their work in offices and courtrooms. The work may be stressful as judges and hearing officers sometimes work with difficult or confrontational individuals.

Some of the things a judge or hearing officer might do:

  • 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

Watch this video to learn about what our judge role models do in their careers:

What skills are needed?
  • 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.
  • Decision-Making 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.

Watch this video to learn more from our judge role models:

What is the pay?

The average pay for judges and hearing officers in the United States ranges from $46,490 to more than $208,000 as of May 2021.

The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.

What is the career outlook?

Employment of judges and hearing officers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations.

These workers play an essential role in the legal system, and their services will continue to be needed into the future.

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.

What education is required to become a judge?

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

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.

Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Law.

Watch this video to learn more from our judge role models: