What Judges and Hearing Officers Do
Judges and hearing officers apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts.
All judges and hearing officers are employed by the federal government or by local and state governments. Most work in courts.
How to Become a Judge or Hearing Officer
Judges usually have law degrees and work experience as lawyers. However, some administrative law judge, hearing officer, and magistrate positions require only a bachelor’s degree.
The median annual wage for administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers was $97,870 in May 2019.
The median annual wage for judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates was $136,910 in May 2019.
Employment of judges and hearing officers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations. These workers play an essential role in the legal system, and their services will continue to be needed into the future.
Judges and hearing officers apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. They also conduct pretrial hearings, resolve administrative disputes, facilitate negotiations between opposing parties, and issue legal decisions.
Judges and hearing officers typically do the following:
- Research legal issues
- Read and evaluate information from documents, such as motions, claim applications, and records
- Preside over hearings and listen to and read arguments by opposing parties
- Determine if the information presented supports the charge, claim, or dispute
- Decide if the procedure is being conducted according to the rules and law
- Apply laws or precedents to reach judgments and to resolve disputes between parties
- Write opinions, decisions, and instructions regarding cases, claims, and disputes
Judges commonly preside over trials and hearings of cases regarding nearly every aspect of society, from individual traffic offenses to issues concerning the rights of large corporations. Judges listen to arguments and determine if the evidence presented deserves a trial. In criminal cases, judges may decide that people charged with crimes should be held in jail until the trial, or they may set conditions for their release. They also approve search warrants and arrest warrants.
Judges interpret the law to determine how a trial will proceed, which is particularly important when unusual circumstances arise for which standard procedures have not been established. They ensure that hearings and trials are conducted fairly and that the legal rights of all involved parties are protected.
In trials in which juries are selected to decide the case, judges instruct jurors on applicable laws and direct them to consider the facts from the evidence. For other trials, judges decide the case. A judge who determines guilt in criminal cases may impose a sentence or penalty on the guilty party. In civil cases, the judge may award relief, such as compensation for damages, to the parties who win lawsuits.
Judges use various forms of technology, such as electronic databases and software, to manage cases and to prepare for trials. In some cases, a judge may manage the court’s administrative and clerical staff.
The following are examples of types of judges and hearing officers:
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates preside over trials and hearings. They typically work in local, state, and federal courts.
In local and state court systems, they have a variety of titles, such as municipal court judge, county court judge, and justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings make up the bulk of these judges’ work.
In federal and state court systems, district court judges and general trial court judges have authority over any case in their system. Appellate court judges rule on a small number of cases, by reviewing decisions of the lower courts and lawyers’ written and oral arguments.
Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers usually work for local, state, and federal government agencies. They decide many issues, such as whether a person is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits or whether employment discrimination occurred.
Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers held about 15,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||48%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||19|
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates held about 29,900 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||55%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||45|
Judges and hearing officers do most of their work in offices and courtrooms. Their jobs can be demanding, because they must sit in the same position in the court or hearing room for long periods and give undivided attention to the process.
Some judges and hearing officers may be required to travel to different counties and courthouses throughout their state.
The work may be stressful as judges and hearing officers sometimes work with difficult or confrontational individuals.
Some courthouses have evening and weekend hours. In addition, judges may have to be on call during nights or weekends to issue emergency orders, such as search warrants and restraining orders.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of judges and hearing officers.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators facilitate negotiation and dialogue between disputing parties to help resolve conflicts outside of the court system.
Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes.
|Doctoral or professional degree||$122,960|
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers.
Private Detectives and Investigators
Private detectives and investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$50,510|
For more information about state courts and judgeships, visit
For more information about federal judges, visit
For more information about judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Judges and Hearing Officers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/judges-and-hearing-officers.htm (visited ).