Become a Hearing Officer: Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn the steps in becoming a hearing officer. Research the job description and various education requirements to find out how to start this career within the legal system.

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Should I Become a Hearing Officer?

Hearing officers, also known as adjudicators or administrative law judges, work for government agencies. They decide a wide variety of cases ranging from regulation compliance to disputes between agencies and the general public. A great deal of time might be spent preparing for hearings. Some of these professionals work on a part-time basis and pursue other careers during their remaining hours.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; the federal government and some state agencies require a Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Degree Field Criminal justice, public administration, law
Licensure and/or Certification Pass the state bar; voluntary certification also available
Experience Experience often required in lieu of a J.D. degree; experience as an attorney and/or experience as a judge, magistrate, referee or hearing officer may be required
Key Skills Decision-making skills, listening skills, critical-reasoning skills
Salary (2014) $87,980 yearly (median for all administrative law judges, adjudicators and hearing officers)

Sources: National Association of Hearing Officials, ok.gov, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, New York State Career Mobility Office, Superior Court of California - Riverside, O*NET OnLine

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum necessary qualification to begin a career as a hearing officer. Programs in criminal justice or coursework in conflict resolution, public policy or history provide the skills and background required by employers, such as the ability to think critically and perform legal research.

If one is planning to attend law school, a pre-law program or a degree in any discipline featuring coursework that builds the skills necessary to be successful in law school could be helpful. Useful skills for future lawyers include writing, debating, accounting, public speaking and analytical thinking. Students may also want to take courses about law and the legal system in order to find out if the field interests them, though these are not required by law schools.

Step 2: Earn a J.D.

Since some agencies and the federal government require hearing officers to have a law degree, an individual planning to work in this occupation will most likely gain an advantage in terms of employability by completing law school. Some schools offer J.D./M.P.A (Master of Public Administration) dual degree programs that combine legal studies with administrative practices, or J.D./M.D.R. programs that combine the law degree with a Master of Dispute Resolution. This latter degree program offers coursework in communication and conflict, negotiation, advanced trial practice, restorative justice and many other subjects. While these joint degrees are not a requirement by most jurisdictions, they do provide applicable education for the position.

Step 3: Receive Specialized Training

All states and the federal government offer training for newly hired administrative law judges and hearing officers; sometimes such training programs are mandatory. Training coursework may include study in alternate dispute resolution, procedure rules and regulations, administrative duties and decision-making processes. Some require applicants to take a civil service exam. The appropriate type of exam for this position can be found through a state's department of civil service.

Step 4: Obtain Voluntary Certification

After acquiring several years of work experience as a hearing officer, an individual may wish to apply for certification in order to demonstrate his or her commitment to the profession. The National Association of Hearing Officials created a program offering certification in an effort to encourage uniformity of professional standards. Certification with NAHO requires a hearing officer to have a combination of experience and education. For example, an individual with a law degree must have at least two years of experience, while someone with a bachelor's degree needs at least four.

Step 5: Continue Your Education

Some jurisdictions recommend hearing officers to engage in continuing education. Courses can be found through one's state Office of Administrative Hearings, Bar Association or private organizations.

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