A judge requires an extensive knowledge of the law; the ability to discern facts and weigh conflicting evidence; judicial temperament; and the ability to be completely impartial in a case. For this reason, many lawyers who want to become a judge practice law for some time before taking the next step. Lawyers who want to become judges also find spending time in the courtroom to be beneficial because it gives people whose support they may need the chance to get to know them. Extensive trial experience is not necessarily essential for many judicial positions, according to the Association of the Bar of The City of New York.
In New York, applying for a clerkship with a judge is a recommended step. Working at a clerkship at the local or state level, puts an attorney in constant contact with the daily duties that a judge has to perform. These tasks may include assisting judges in the drafting of opinions, as well as research. Clerkships at the federal level are also an option.
There are two ways to become a judge in New York: someone can run for public office as a judge, or apply for a judgeship and get appointed. The appointive positions are based on the recommendations of judicial screening or nominating committees. These committees accept applications from all eligible attorneys. The application for an appointment is highly competitive, and a prospective judge should be prepared to apply more than once. Judicial positions that are filled by appointment include: Family Court, Criminal Court, Interim Civil Court, Housing Court, Interim Supreme Court, Court of Claims, Interim Surrogate’s Court and Court of Appeals. All federal judicial positions are filled by appointment. On occasion, appointments are also made to fill elective position vacancies.
Lawyers who are looking to be elected must run a campaign just like any other politician.
Vacancies in judicial offices and the start of selection processes are usually announced in the press. However, the NYC Bar points out that the announcement may be small and may be printed only by the New York Law Journal and on courts’ websites.
Lawyers who apply for a judgeship should be ready to disclose personal information in their application. Questions will be asked about involvement in past lawsuits, treatment or counseling received for substance abuse, and more. In New York, the Committee on the Judiciary of the Association of the Bar of The City of New York, in conjunction with the county bar association in the relevant county, investigates and evaluates the qualifications of all candidates for judicial office in New York City. The purpose of the screening committees is to see if a lawyer is qualified. It is not a selection committee.
Judges who have been elected or appointed will need to complete certain introductory training programs or seminars before practicing as a judge. Throughout their career, judges in New York must also maintain their continuing education credits. This continuing education must include the classes required to maintain a state Bar membership. The completion of classes must be reported to the State Bar of New York.
The Association of the Bar of The City of New York offers more information on the methods of judicial selection; the relevant governmental, political and other bodies that participate in the selection processes; and the statutory and other criteria applicable to the selection process for each judicial position in their booklet, How to Become a Judge.