To become an associate justice in the US requires the appropriate educational background. This consists of a four-year undergraduate degree and graduation from an accredited law school. As judges must preside over legal controversies, litigation experience as a lawyer is important. A lawyer who desires a judicial career must also develop a reputation for fairness and integrity among judges and peers and within the community.
Educational preparation is an important first step on the path to become an associate justice, often referred to as an associate judge at the trial court level. No particular area of study is necessary as an undergraduate. However, courses that involve writing, oral persuasion, and logical thinking are helpful in preparing for law school. In law school, careful study of the rules of evidence and procedure is invaluable. No matter what type of case a judge hears, she must have a thorough knowledge of these rules.
A great deal of trial experience is essential to become an associate justice or judge. In many jurisdictions, the judges presiding in the circuit in which the lawyer practices elect associate justices. An important consideration in the selection process is confidence that a judicial candidate will preside over trials confidently and effectively.
Trying cases gives an attorney frequent contact with the judges who will be deciding who should fill the next associate vacancy. It is also an opportunity for an attorney to display her courtroom skills and knowledge of the law. In trying cases, a lawyer can get firsthand experience of how experienced judges handle the many issues that can arise in any type of litigation.
Being active in the local and state bar associations is an important factor when deciding to become an associate justice. Many circuit courts rely on local lawyers' evaluations of associate justice candidates before making a selection. A lawyer’s reputation among judges and her peers for honesty, fairness, and commitment to the profession is a crucial factor in the decision. Representing the legal profession in the community through public speaking on topical legal issues can help demonstrate a lawyer's commitment to public service.
Amid work responsibilities, a lawyer should not lose sight of basic civic responsibilities like voting, jury duty, tax obligations, and observation of even minor traffic laws. Judges are expected to uphold the law in all respects. Part of the evaluation process is an interview with the circuit judges, individually and collectively. A lawyer aspiring to the bench must be prepared to explain why she is qualified for the position of associate justice and why she would be a good one.