Administrative Law Judge: Requirements, Duties and Outlook

Sep 17, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an administrative law judge. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties, and appointments to find out if this is the career for you.

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Administrative law judges rule on regulatory or bureaucratic issues. Education requirements vary between the state and federal levels. Over the next several years, this profession is expected to show a decrease in employment.

Essential Information

Administrative law judges make determinations for a government agency regarding claims, regulatory matters, or other legal issues that arise in an administrative capacity. These positions are highly competitive, and appointments range from a few years to a lifetime tenure. A strong legal background and continued education is generally required.

Required Education Bachelor's degree (state office)
Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) degree (federal agency)
Other Requirements Bar examination
Projected Job Growth* (2018-2028) 2% (administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers)
Mean Salary* (2018) $101,210 (administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers)

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Requirements of an Administrative Law Judge

Some state offices require an administrative law judge (ALJ) to hold at least a bachelor's degree and have some form of legal background. Federal agencies mandate a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) degree, passage of a state bar exam and experience as a lawyer to be appointed to the position. Both state and federal judges are often appointed by a court, legislative body or governing official, though federal ALJs must have at least seven years' experience practicing law in a judicial capacity and pass an exam issued by U.S. Office of Personnel Management

States vary educational and experience requirements and initiate new ALJs through participation in an orientation program. In addition, most states mandate continuing education courses for administrative judges to ensure up-to-date legal expertise and precedence. Several professional organizations, such as the Association of Administrative Law Judges and the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary, offer administrative law judges annual conferences, which may satisfy continuing education requirements. Many college and university law programs, as well as state bar organizations, host periodic seminars and online courses in administrative law targeted at incumbent judges.

Administrative law judges are appointed by the specific agency for which they will make determinations. Term duration varies by court and agency, though federal judges often receive lifetime tenure. State ALJs may serve temporary terms ranging from just a few years to ten or more, often with the possibility of re-appointment at the end of a term.

Duties of an Administrative Law Judge

Rather than individual proceedings or constitutional and civil rights cases, administrative law judges typically rule on regulatory and bureaucratic issues, such as social security eligibility, environmental protection standards, health and safety code enforcement and labor laws. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) outlines the general duties and powers of federal administrative law judges. According to the APA, federal administrative law judges have the power to issue subpoenas, enter or exclude evidence and execute various powers comparable to a federal trial judge. While the function and duties of a state administrative law judges usually follow the APA to some degree, the nature and influence of a state ALJ's rulings may differ significantly. Common duties of an administrative law judge include:

  • Evaluate government programs and regulations
  • Assign penalties and ascribe liability restrictions
  • Assess and improve court procedures
  • Resolve agency disputes

Career Outlook for Administrative Law Judges

In May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the average annual income of administrative law judges, adjudicators and hearing officers was $101,210 (www.bls.gov). During that time, the majority were employed at state government agencies, though the federal government typically offered the highest salaries. Due to the prestige and security associated with administrative judicial positions, those seeking appointment can expect severe competition. According to the BLS, employment of administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers is projected to have a 2% increase from 2018-2028.

Administrative law judges make rulings in regard to legal matters in administrative capacities. This may be a difficult field to break into it, making it imperative for aspiring administrative law judges to differentiate themselves from their competition as best they can.

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