Become an Adjudicator: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become an adjudicator. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the legal system.

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Should I Become an Adjudicator?

Adjudicators, also known as administrative law judges or hearing officers, make out-of-court judgments and decisions for a variety of federal and state administrative agencies. They make decisions related to many types of issues, like workers' compensation eligibility and possible occurrences of employment discrimination. Travel might be required.The following table contains the main requirements for being an adjudicator:

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; all federal agencies and many states may require further legal education or a Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Degree Field Law
Licensure and/or Certification Lawyers must be members of the state bar
Experience Experience in a legal role is usually required; experience as a lawyer may be required
Key Skills Decision-making, listening and critical-reasoning skills, knowledge of law and government, psychology and administrative procedures
Salary $87,980 per year (Median salary from May, 2014 for administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers)

Sources: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), there is no specific undergraduate program required to prepare for a legal career. However, it is recommended that students take classes that are motivating and challenging, rather than focus on a particular area of study. It is also important that students take the necessary classes to prepare them for the skills that they need to be successful in law school, such as writing, research, analytical thinking and oral communication. Some state agencies may require only a bachelor's degree and relevant experience to be considered for a job as an adjudicator, but opportunities for those without a law degree may be limited.

Step 2: Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

The Law School Admission Council aids both prospective law students and law schools during the admissions process, primarily by administering a test that helps schools assess the capabilities of the applicants. The LSAT is a half-day exam and is given only four times a year at testing locations across the world. All law schools that are approved by the ABA require students to complete this test for admission. While the test scores are not the only criteria used to evaluate applicants, good scores are a crucial aspect of the overall assessment.

Step 3: Complete Law School

Upon acceptance at a law school, students spend approximately three years pursuing their degree. In the J.D. program, they may choose concentrations in the area of law that interests them. After graduating from law school, students must take and pass the bar exam for the state where they plan to reside and practice law.

Step 4: Gain Legal Experience

Working as an attorney is a key way to earn the legal experience necessary to become an adjudicator or administrative law judge. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), an administrative law judge for a federal government agency is required to have seven years experience as a lawyer to be considered for the position. While requirements for state agencies vary, practical attorney experience is generally recommended. Additionally, attorneys may wish to get this experience the areas of law where they hope to work as an adjudicator, in order to acquire knowledge on the agency's rules and regulations.

Step 5: Take Any Necessary Examinations or Certifications

At the federal government level, future adjudicators must pass an examination that evaluates their knowledge of the legal system. Once they have successfully passed this exam, they are eligible to serve as judges for federal agencies. Different state agencies may or may not require an exam or certification in order to serve as a judge. However, passing these exams and earning certification may enhance career advancement and job prospects.

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