Magistrates are judges who preside over various types of cases, in order to assist district court judges. Their role consists of understanding and applying relevant laws to their cases. Their work depends on the type of court for which they work, and they may preside over federal, state, and local hearings. Locally, magistrates may also be known as justices of the peace or county court judges.
Why Become A Magistrate
Like other judicial positions, magistrates are appointed to their positions, earning such an appointment through a majority vote held by district court judges within their jurisdiction. Magistrates are limited in their work, as they are not district judges, who are appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Instead of lifetime terms, they are held to eight- and four-year terms, for full- and part-time work, respectively. In addition, they may not preside over felony cases at the federal level.
Magistrates have as much authority as district judges, however, over proceedings within the districts to which they are assigned. Routine work for them includes issuing warrants and summonses, setting bail, presiding over initial criminal proceedings, administering oaths, and deciding hearings with regard to evidence.
Magistrates must have keen evaluation skills and a number of other traits that allow them to work in an unbiased and professional manner:
Magistrate Work Environment
Nearly half of all magistrates work for state courts. The remaining magistrates work for local courts (44 percent) and at the federal level (9 percent). Many magistrates work full time and put in many hours, both in and out of the courtroom. Their work environment typically consists of an office, where they research and determine judgments, and the courtroom. All judges must be prepared to sit for lengthy periods, and they must pay close attention to all matters.
It is possible for magistrates to travel among courthouses within the state of their work. Additionally, magistrates must be prepared to work weekends and holidays—depending on their assignment—as well as being on call to issue emergency warrants and restraining orders.
In May 2014, the median annual salary for U.S. magistrates was $115,140. Their salaries can vary from $31,480 to $178,920, depending on experience, location, and assignment. Those who work at the federal level will most likely make the most, followed by state, and then local governments.
Magistrate Career Outlook
Between 2014 and 2024, the job growth for magistrates is not projected to decline nor grow. Although there is a need for more magistrates, budgetary constraints and the fact that these positions are filled through appointment may limit openings. Additionally, many parties may wish to settle their cases through mediation as opposed to litigation.
Although growth is not likely, the career outlook is good for well-qualified candidates. Becoming a judge is a life-long dream for many, and it is an occupation that comes with prestige. It is a competitive market, but positions will open as other magistrates retire due to term limit or other endeavors.
Magistrates are required to have a law degree (Juris Doctor). For those looking to work at the federal level, magistrates must first become lawyers.
Step 1: Obtain an undergraduate degree. Students who wish to enter law school must have completed a bachelor’s degree first. It is important to pick a program that will offer students courses to improve reading and writing, analytical, public speaking, and interpersonal communication skills. Many students choose to earn bachelor’s degrees in English, philosophy, criminal justice, political science, or business.
Step 2: Take and pass the LSAT. Students must pass the Law School Admission Test in order to gain access to an accredited law program.
Step 3: Obtain a law degree. To be a magistrate, candidates must successfully complete law school, obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Students in law school should choose courses that are relevant to the type of law they wish to practice.
Step 4: Work toward a desired position. Different paths exist to become a magistrate, depending on the level and location of one’s desired goal. Again, those working toward a federal position must first become licensed and practicing lawyers, passing their state’s bar exam as well as various background checks. Some states also require magistrates at any level to have law experience first.
Political connections and relocation may also help candidates obtain appointments as magistrates, within the level and location of their desired goal. It is important to gain support through backing political candidates, networking, and supporting various organizations.