Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers held about 15,200 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||49%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||17|
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates held about 29,800 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||55%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||45|
Judges and hearing officers do most of their work in offices and courtrooms. Their jobs can be demanding, because they must sit in the same position in the court or hearing room for long periods and give undivided attention to the process.
Some judges and hearing officers may be required to travel to different counties and courthouses throughout their state.
The work may be stressful as judges and hearing officers sometimes work with difficult or confrontational individuals.
Some courthouses have evening and weekend hours. In addition, judges may have to be on call during nights or weekends to issue emergency orders, such as search warrants and restraining orders.
Judges and hearing officers typically must have a law degree and work experience as a lawyer.
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.
In addition to earning a law degree, federal administrative law judges must pass a competitive exam from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
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.
Most judges and magistrates must be appointed or elected into their positions, a procedure that often requires political support. Many local and state judges are appointed to serve fixed renewable terms, ranging from 4 to 14 years. A few judges, such as appellate court judges, are appointed for life. Judicial nominating commissions screen candidates for judgeships in many states and for some federal judgeships.
For specific state information, including information on the number of judgeships by state, term lengths, and requirements for qualification, visit the National Center for State Courts.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Most judges and hearing officers learn their skills through years of experience as practicing lawyers. Some states allow those who are not lawyers to hold limited-jurisdiction judgeships, but opportunities are better for those with law experience.
All states have some type of orientation and training requirements for newly elected or appointed judges. The Federal Judicial Center, American Bar Association, National Judicial College, and National Center for State Courts provide judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel.
More than half of all states, as well as Puerto Rico, require judges to take continuing education courses while serving on the bench. General and continuing education courses usually last from a few days to 3 weeks.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most judges and hearing officers are required to have a law license. In addition, they typically must maintain their law license and good standing with their state bar association while working as a judge or hearing officer.
Advancement for some judicial workers means moving to courts with a broader jurisdiction. Advancement for various hearing officers includes taking on more complex cases, practicing law, and becoming district court judges.
Judges and hearing officers typically have an interest in the Helping and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a judge and hearing officer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Judges and hearing officers should also possess the following specific qualities:
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 must pay close attention to what is being said, to evaluate information.
Reading skills. Judges and hearing officers must be able to evaluate and distinguish the important facts from large amounts of sometimes complex information.
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.
The median annual wage for administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers was $97,870 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,970, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $172,010.
The median annual wage for judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates was $136,910 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $204,200.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||81,510|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||75,270|
In May 2019, the median annual wages for judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||$151,750|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||92,270|
Some courthouses have evening and weekend hours. In addition, judges have to be on call during nights or weekends to issue emergency orders, such as search warrants and restraining orders.
Employment of judges and hearing officers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028, 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. However, budgetary constraints in federal, state, and local governments may limit the ability of these governments to fill vacant judge and hearing officer positions or authorize new ones. If there are governmental budget concerns, this could limit the employment growth opportunities of hearing officers and administrative law judges working for local, state, and federal government agencies, despite the continued need for these workers to settle disputes.
The prestige associated with becoming a judge, and the fact that many need to be elected or nominated into the position, will ensure continued competition for these positions. 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.
For more information about state courts and judgeships, visit
For more information about federal judges, visit
For more information about judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel, visit