How to Become a Justice of the Peace: Education and Career Roadmap
Find out how to become a justice of the peace. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the legal system.
Do I Want to Be a Justice of the Peace?
A justice of the peace is a local and state court judge with limited jurisdiction over certain case types, generally not including felony criminal cases. Similar to municipal court judges and magistrates, they perform many of the same duties, including adjudicating traffic violations, performing marriage ceremonies, trying small-claims cases and conducting pretrial hearings. Some states allow these justices to handle cases involving domestic relations, contracts and other chosen legal areas. Work hours might be long when preparing for hearings, but some work part-time in this profession and pursue other employment to work full-time.
Many jurisdictions require that these professionals be experienced, licensed attorneys, which requires earning a bachelor's degree and then a juris doctor degree, passing the state bar exam to gain licensure. The following table contains the main requirements for being a justice of the peace, as stated by the BLS:
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (JD)|
|Licensure||Lawyers must be members of the state bar|
|Experience||Experience as a lawyer often required|
|Key Skills||Writing, critical-reasoning, decision-making and listening skills, as well as reading apprehension|
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
A justice of the peace's career typically begins like an attorney's, with a bachelor's degree. The American Bar Association (ABA) does not recognize a specific pre-law major curriculum, and undergraduates can prepare for law school with a bachelor's degree in any field. If available, a pre-law program could be helpful. These programs typically include courses in criminal justice, psychology and sociology. Philosophy and political science are also common choices. Academic advisors can help pre-law students select a major that will best fit their needs and prepare them for law school.
Step 2: Gain Admission to Law School
Following an undergraduate degree program, aspiring justices of the peace enroll in law school to earn a Juris Doctor (JD). Gaining admission to an ABA-accredited law school requires prospective students to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). A law degree program generally takes three years of full time study to complete.
Step 3: Complete Law School
Law degree programs that may provide useful training for an individual aspiring to become a justice of the peace can include those with concentrations in such areas as public policy, litigation and dispute resolution. Some schools offer Juris Doctor (JD) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) dual degree programs that combine legal studies with administrative practices.
Step 4: Pass the Bar Examination
Upon completing law school, graduates must pass the bar examination in the states in which they wish to practice law. The bar exam is a written test based on the standards established by the state's highest court. At this point in their careers, many future justices of the peace intern with a legal organization or law office as a legal assistant or paralegal to get hands-on, real-life experience and a preview at day-to-day life in the legal profession.
Step 5: Gain Experience Practicing Law
While some states allow non-attorneys to hold a limited number of judgeships with curtailed jurisdiction, experience as a lawyer opens up career options for a justice of the peace, according to the BLS. As a lawyer, a future justice of the peace may focus on either criminal or civil law practice. Criminal lawyers focus on people accused of breaking the law, while civil lawyers concentrate on contracts and litigation of disputes between parties that don't necessarily involve a legal violation.
Step 6: Become Elected or Gain Appointment
After accruing some experience as an attorney, aspiring judges are normally appointed or elected to their posts. These positions are often only available to individuals with experience as attorneys, but the minimum requirement in most states is that the individual be a registered voter with no felony convictions.
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