Career Paths: Judiciary

The Federal and state court systems also hire many attorneys, primarily as judges, magistrates, referees, clerks, and prosecutors.  The federal courts are separated into trial level (called "District Courts"), appellate level (called "Circuit Courts") and the United States Supreme Court.  There are other specialized federal courts as well, including the United States Bankruptcy Courts, and various U.S. courts of tax, claims and international trade.  Federal judges are appointed by the President of the United States.

The structure of state courts varies from state to state.  In Ohio, the main levels are trial courts ("Common Pleas", other county, municipal and mayor's courts), appellate and Supreme Courts.  Other state courts are juvenile and domestic relations, probate and the Court of Claims.  All Ohio judges are elected. Click here to view the Career Planning Office's Ohio Judicial Directory (.pdf), which contains contact information for many of Ohio's courts.   

Law students are often employed by individual judges as externs during the school year as well as over the summer.  While these positions are usually non-paying, you will have direct contact with one or more judges, attend trials, perform research for actual cases and help draft orders and opinions and generally gain great insight into the workings of the court system and judicial decision making. 

Magistrates and referees are sometimes mistaken by non-lawyers for judges.  They also reign over proceedings and have decision making capabilities, though not nearly as extensive as those of judges.  Many also have externs and clerks and provide work experience similar to that of judicial clerks.

Lawyers are often employed by the court system as judicial law clerks.  These positions are available to law school graduates who for a set term, usually one to two years, act as a judge's right hand person.  Although a judicial law clerks' responsibilities vary greatly depending on the judge and the level of the court, most law clerks do a great deal of research and analysis, which they present to the judges to whom they are assigned.  It is considered an honor to be a judicial clerk, especially for a federal judge, so the competition for these positions tends to be quite fierce.  Federal judges tend to hire their law clerks well in advance of their terms and students generally begin applying for these positions in May of their second year. Many federal judges use the online application system known as OSCAR. Further info about OSCAR is available from the Career Planning Office.  State court judges generally do not hire their law clerks quite so far in advance but it is best to check wit the individual judges to determine their exact application procedures and deadlines. 

Prosecutors, including U.S. Attorneys on the federal level, Attorney Generals on the state level and District Attorneys on the county level, are also employed by the court system.  These offices are excellent places at which to obtain experience in criminal or civil trial work.  Most prosecutors' offices hire students as volunteers or for pay and, except for the U.S. Attorney's Office, they also generally hire new graduates, as well.  Prosecutors' offices are noted for offering early responsibility and a very fast paced environment.  Competition for these jobs is great so those interested in a career in prosecution are advised to consider such offices in rural areas and then network your way into larger urban areas.

Career Planning Office Judicial Directories

The following directories contain general information and contact information for many of the various courts and judges.

Ohio Judicial Directory (.pdf)

Pennsylvania Judicial Directory (.pdf)