Judges, Magistrates, Arbitrators, and Mediators

Judicial workers aid in the supervision of court processes and application of the law in legal settings. Judges and magistrates preside over legal trials and hearings to administer the law and make sure the correct rules and procedures are followed by all parties. Mediators and arbitrators are third-party individuals who provide assistance in alternative dispute resolution, a legal process purposed to settle disputes out of court. At the very least, these types of judicial workers must have a bachelor's degree, although most judges, magistrates, and arbitrators are lawyers, meaning they have earned a law degree and passed a bar examination. Additional requirements regarding training, experience, and formal designations vary by state and position.

Unlike many other careers, no preparatory schooling exists that teaches judging cases, court and judicial administration, records clerking, hearing reporting, etc.; and judicial branch education addresses this void.

Rich ReavesExecutive Director of the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education of Georgia

Getting a Judge, Magistrate, Mediator, or Arbitrator Licensure or Certification

As judges and magistrates are elected or appointed, there are no national licensure or certification requirements. Other requirements vary according to state. Formal requirements for federal judges do not exist, although Congress and the Department of Justice have set informal criteria, such as possessing ample work experience as a lawyer. Some types of state administrative law judges are not required to have been lawyers, but most federal and state judges are. Federal administrative law judges must also pass an exam administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In addition, you must be a lawyer to obtain a position as a federal magistrate judge or bankruptcy judge, but not to be a district judge, circuit judge, or Supreme Court justice, even though it is highly unlikely you would ever be nominated for one of these positions without a law degree.

Whether or not law experience is required, all states require judges to undergo an orientation to become familiar with the legal system. Given that there are various formal education requirements, orientations are necessary for educated, newly elected, or appointed judges about the judicial branch, according to Rich Reaves, executive director of the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education of Georgia. "Unlike many other careers, no preparatory schooling exists that teaches judging cases, court and judicial administration, records clerking, hearing reporting, etc.; and judicial branch education addresses this void," he said. Education and training for those in judicial positions are typically provided by organizations like the American Bar Association, National Judicial College, National Center for State Courts, and the Federal Judicial Center. Other requirements vary by state and may pertain to citizenship, age, law license, and years of experience. According to Reaves, judicial education furnishes a means for judges to learn about key substantive developments — and compare, assess, and modernize the exercise of discretionary powers and administrative practices within acceptable norms for serving the public.

For mediators and arbitrators, credential or licensure requirements vary by state, most of which call for them to have a certain amount of training and experience. It is not uncommon for a state to require mediators to be licensed, certified, or registered. Licensure and certification programs are available through professional organizations, independent programs, and postsecondary schools and usually involve around 60 hours of basic and advanced courses. Additionally, advanced degrees in areas like dispute resolution, conflict management, public policy, or law will provide you with a good educational background if you want to establish a career in this field.

The National Center for State Courts provides information concerning each state's resources for mediation and arbitration contacts and procedures.

Maintaining a Judge, Magistrate, Mediator, or Arbitrator Licensure or Certification

To maintain their positions, the majority of states require judges currently serving on the bench to periodically complete continuing education (CE) courses. While these requirements vary by state, court, and judgeship, continuing judicial education ensures that those presiding over courtrooms are up to date on laws, court procedures, legal practices, and judicial ethics. Judicial education is an essential component of the state’s judiciary, said Reaves. "New statutes are created each year by the legislature, not to mention new case holdings handed down from both the state and federal appellate courts," he said. "This presents a complex matrix of new law that serves regularly as the subject matter for discussion, understanding and refinement via judicial education, in order to aid judges in the law’s application effectively in pending as well as future cases."

Typically required every couple of years, continuing education courses can be completed over a period of time and around one's schedule. State-approved courses may be available both in the classroom and online through law schools, the National Judicial College, or state judicial colleges. Some states also allow judges to obtain CE credits through legal self-study, writing for legal credit, review of videos, or teaching for legal credit. According to Reaves, continuing judicial education furnishes a means for judges to learn about key substantive developments – and compare, assess, and modernize the exercise of discretionary powers and administrative practices within acceptable norms for serving the public. Failing to fulfill continuing education requirements can result in fees, a sanction, or eventual termination. For more information on continuing education requirements, contact your state's continuing legal education commission.

Continuing education for arbitrators and mediators also vary by state. It is likely that mediators who are licensed, certified, or registered will have to complete continuing education requirements to maintain their designation. In some states, continuing education for arbitrators may be voluntary, but strongly encouraged to improve skills and build knowledge. They may also be required to complete continuing education to be refreshed on ADR practices, improve negotiation skills, and build skills to maintain neutrality. Arbitrators who are members of a professional association or certified in a specialized area will also likely be required to participate in continuing education.

Over the course of a career many changes will occur in a profession requiring an updating of knowledge and skills, according to the International Association of Professions Debt Arbitrators, which offers certification programs for arbitrators who wish to specialize in consumer debt relief. This association enforces continuing education requirements, which must be completed every two years, for arbitrators who wish to maintain the IAPDA designations of Certified Debt Specialist and Certified Credit Counseling Specialist. "Requiring continuing education to maintain certification and accreditation ensures that the recipients of our certified member's services are rightfully benefiting from what are current industry standards, and they're not being counseled with outdated or incorrect information," according to IAPDA's website.

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