Those interested in becoming magistrates must first obtain a bachelor's degree. This degree can be in any discipline, but those who pursue legal studies will gain an understanding of how the court system works in the United States. From there, individuals need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which provides the specialized knowledge required to become a judge. After graduating, students must pass the bar exam in the state where they wish to practice and complete special training. Those who eventually become magistrates are typically appointed or elected.
Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies
This 4-year degree can provide aspiring magistrates with the requirements to enroll in a law degree program and prepare them for a career as a magistrate. Students learn the fundamental concepts of the U.S. legal system in addition to how lawmakers shape, understand, use and revise legal statutes. They are also taught litigation, rhetoric and criminal law. Some programs require the completion of a capstone project, which allows students to combine theoretical knowledge with practical experience. Programs may include courses like:
- Constitutional law
- Legal ethics
- Wills, trusts and estates
- Law and society
- Legal writing and analysis
- Philosophy of law
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The J.D. is a professional doctorate degree in law and takes three years to complete. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and submit LSAT scores. Students learn about criminal procedures, legal research, contracts, tort law and constitutional law, among other topics. Additionally, students gain hands-on experience through clinics that focus on their chosen specializations. Some concentrations include commercial, environmental or family law. Common coursework may include topics such as:
- Civil procedure
- Capital punishment
- Complex litigation
- Consumer protection
- Domestic violence and law
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that judges and hearing officers could expect little to no job growth between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, judges and magistrates earned a median annual salary of $126,930 according to BLS data.
Continuing Education, Magistrate Training and Appointment Information
In many jurisdictions, magistrates are appointed or elected to office through a process that may require political support. Appointment terms vary by state and locality and may be renewable. Each state requires an orientation or training program for newly appointed magistrates. The National Center for State Courts and the American Bar Association are examples of entities that offer training.
States also require that magistrates continue their education through special coursework while they serve. In addition, lawyers must obtain licensing through their local bar association and continue their education through specified legal coursework.
Students who want to become magistrates must complete about seven years of study: four years in a bachelor's degree program, and three years getting a J.D. From there, they have to be elected or appointed to become a judge.