Do You Have to Be a Lawyer Before You Can Be a Judge?

Many judges attend classes to stay informed on changing laws.
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Judges play a critical role in the complex legal system, with responsibilities that include overseeing judicial proceedings, interpreting the law and determining guilt or innocence. While many judges begin their legal careers as lawyers, holding a law degree is not always a requirement for serving as a judge.

Jurisdictional Requirements

Whether you must be a lawyer before serving as a judge depends on the requirements of the jurisdiction where you will serve. There aren't any legally-established qualifications for justices serving on certain federal courts -- including district courts, circuit courts and even the United States Supreme Court. On the local judicial level, each state legislature has discretion to set its own qualification requirements for judges. Twenty-four states allow nonlawyer judges to preside over certain types of judicial cases, as of 2014. For example, Pennsylvania does not require its magisterial district court judges to be licensed members of the Bar of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. These judges hear low level cases involving traffic violations and misdemeanor criminal charges.

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