Justice of the Peace Career Video: Becoming a Judicial Officer

Justice of the Peace Career Video: Becoming a Judicial Officer Transcript

A justice of the peace is a type of judge who presides over courts that try misdemeanor and small civil cases. A justice of the peace need not be a lawyer, but having a law degree can provide increased career opportunities. Most justices of the peace are elected or appointed to their position in the court.


In many areas, justices of the peace have many of the same responsibilities as state court judges. They preside over evictions, misdemeanor criminal cases and small civil claims. A law degree and admittance to the state bar is not required, but can increase career opportunities. Most positions are filled through either political appointment or popular election, limiting the number of available positions.

Job Duties and Skills

The duties and responsibilities of a justice of the peace differ from state to state. Generally, a justice of the peace is a state judge who presides over misdemeanor criminal cases and small claims civil cases. Common cases heard by justices of the peace include tenant and landlord disputes, evictions, small debts and traffic violations.

It is the responsibility of a justice of the peace to maintain a fair and impartial courtroom and to uphold the Constitutional rights of both defendants and plaintiffs. Despite the fact that proceedings held before a justice of the peace are more informal than most traditional trials, a sense of duty and strong ethics are required to uphold the legal system.

Training Required

Unlike judges, in most cases, justices of the peace are not necessarily required to begin their careers as a lawyer. Currently 40 states allow non-attorneys to become a justice of the peace.

Most justices of the peace are officials elected by the voting public or appointed by a governor or other holder of political office. A background in public policy or politics is beneficial in understanding the political process. Being a prominent member of the community, either through business or public service can also help increase a candidate's public profile and electability. Developing a network of contacts in the community and in a political party are essential for a successful campaign.

If you do decide to pursue a career as a lawyer before becoming a justice of the peace, you'll need to attend an American Bar Association certified law school after receiving your bachelors degree. Most students are able to find a law program that fits well with their academic and professional goals. Courses focus on current legal issues, legal history, case law and legal writing and research techniques. Law school graduates are given a Juris Doctorate degree and are able to take a Bar examination. Those who pass the Bar exam are able to begin their career as a practicing attorney.

Career Outlook

Career opportunities for justices of the peace who are not members of the state Bar Association are limited. This is because they are public officials who are either elected or appointed for a term that may be five or more years, depending on their jurisdiction. This limits the number of positions that are open each year.

An increasing number of states are beginning to reduce their reliance on justices of the peace. In years past, justices of the peace were necessary because of a shortage of lawyers and legal professionals. Today by comparison, law schools are graduating more qualified law professionals than ever before, negating the need for non-attorney justices of the peace.

Other political offices and positions in public policy may be available to justices of the peace. Most are civic leaders with strong ties to the business community and may also have many opportunities for careers in business. A justice of the peace may also work as a negotiator or arbitrator for business disputes, although this may require some additional training and licensure.


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