Being a judge may look like a fun job: You get to listen to a variety of cases every day and decide the fairest result of each. But some people may wonder why a successful or already well-paid lawyer would want to change careers and become a judge. The process of becoming a judge varies depending on where the judge serves. Some judges are appointed and some are elected. But all judge positions come with perks and opportunities that appeal to many lawyers.
Judges have a guaranteed salary that isn't dependent on the number of cases they win or the number of clients they bring in. For some lawyers, this can be appealing. And in some cases, a judge's salary is higher than a lawyer's, such as for lawyers who work as court-appointed defense attorneys or for legal aid groups. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average mean wage for a state judge was $131,160 as of 2011. Federal circuit judges earned an average of $184,500 a year in 2010.
Serving as a judge is an honorable position. Some attorneys may seek to become judges for the privilege and status that go with the job. People tend to view judges as having wisdom, although this reputation is also earned with the court decisions that a judge makes. Lawyers may also want to become judges so they can bring more dignity to the position if they have witnessed other judges misuse their privileges.
Judges make life-altering decisions every day. A lawyer who truly loves the challenge of litigation may seek to become a judge so he can immerse himself in the field. A judge receives new cases every day and gets to study case law to try to discover the right and most fair result for each case. A lawyer may also be drawn to the idea of being able to write detailed opinions describing why he made each case's decision. It also may be appealing to have the freedom to focus on litigation without worrying about headaches that go along with managing a law practice.
Judges have the opportunity to try many interesting cases, some very high-profile. A lawyer may choose to become a judge because he loves being in the spotlight and having the responsibility of deciding a case while the state or nation watches. Such high-profile cases can also pave the way for a judge to write books or become a commentator after he is no longer a judge.
Being a judge also has downsides. It can be stressful. The high-profile nature of a judge's position will affect his family, because they too will be in the spotlight. A judge who is elected must worry about how the public views him. Whether appointed or elected, a lawyer's qualifications and his past will be vetted by the public before he becomes a judge.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 -- Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers -- Pay
- The Supreme Court of Ohio & the Ohio Judicial System: Living with a Judge
- Illinois Bar Journal: So You Want to Be a Judge?
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