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How Much Experience Do You Need To Become a Judge?

By Laura Temme, Esq. | Last updated on

Members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee grilled President Joe Biden's latest nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this week, with some focusing on his age more than his experience.

Bradley Garcia, 36, would be among the youngest federal judges and the first Latino judge to serve on the D.C. Circuit if he's confirmed. But unlike the requirements for Congressional positions and the president, the Constitution doesn't require anyone to reach a certain age before they join the bench.

So if that's the case, what does it take to become a judge?

What Kind of Work Experience Do Judges Usually Have?

Many who become federal judges work in government before joining the bench. Garcia, for example, currently works for the U.S. Justice Department.

It also helps to have trial experience. In his confirmation hearing, Garcia pointed to his eight years in appellate practice as a partner at a large law firm. He's argued before the Supreme Court and litigated more than 50 appeals.

However, a lack of litigation experience is not necessarily a deal breaker. Judge Justin Walker, who was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 2020, had only a brief stint in private practice before joining the bench. Instead, he spent most of his career as a law professor and commentator before becoming a federal district court judge.

On the other hand, most states require a person to have at least 10 years of legal practice experience before becoming a judge.

Don't Forget Politics!

Although the judicial branch is supposed to be politically neutral, there's no getting around the fact that even judges who aren't elected have to deal with politics. It's often about who you know rather than what you know.

Someone interested in becoming a judge should choose a law school known for connecting students to judicial clerkships. But remember, anyone can get good grades. To become a judge, you'll probably have to make friends with the right people and get into politics.

As you've probably gathered, there's no single pathway to becoming a judge. But there's also no rule against aiming straight for the top; several people have joined the U.S. Supreme Court with no prior experience as judges.

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