Arizona Judicial Branch

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.  I graduated from law school six years ago and have been practicing in Arizona since that time.  Am I eligible to apply for a judicial position?

A.  To apply for a position as judge of an Arizona Superior Court or municipal court, you must be 30 years of age, have been admitted to practice law in Arizona for 5 years, have been a resident of Arizona for the five years preceding your application and be of good moral character.

However, to apply for a position on the Arizona Supreme Court or Arizona Court of Appeals, you must be a resident of Arizona, and admitted to practice law in Arizona, for a minimum of 10 years and be of good moral character.  So, the comparative brevity of your legal experience would not disqualify you from applying for a position as a trial judge.  You will have to wait another 4 years to apply for a position as a state appellate judge.

Q:  What should I consider before deciding to become a judge?

A:  Deciding to become a judge is an important decision.  Like most big decisions, it important to do your due diligence in finding out what will be asked of you as a judicial officer and compare this to what you expect to gain.  This cost/benefit or “pro/con” analysis is different for everyone because everyone is in a different situation and time in their lives.

A good place to start is to review the Code of Judicial Conduct.  The Code of Judicial Conduct lays out a number of restrictions that affect a judge’s life both professionally and personally.  For some this is no impediment to serving as a judge but it gives others pause.  Either way, it’s good to know what you’re getting into upfront.

There are practical considerations too.

Regarding schedule, judges often work well past business hours and on weekends so they can be prepared to competently administer justice.  It’s a commitment.

During regular business hours, judges are tied to courtrooms and need to be available during court hours.  For some, this is onerous due to their other demands or pursuits.  But some look at this inflexibility and see a predictability which may be a welcome respite from a very flexible but unpredictable schedule which could include extensive in-state or even out-of-state travel, often on short notice.

Regarding compensation, depending on the judicial position and your current situation, you may be taking a pay cut to join the bench or, you may look at the total compensation and benefits package and find it attractive.

So there’s a lot to consider.

Current judges can be a wonderful resource in kicking around the pro and cons.  Don’t be shy about sharing your aspirations with them and asking for their input.

We hope you decide that a judicial position is a good fit for you.

Q:  When should I begin preparing to become a judge?

A:  You already have.  During your professional life you have dedicated yourself to being the best lawyer you can be.  That’s an important start.  Technical competence is a vital attribute of a judicial officer.

You’ve also been developing a reputation in the legal community.  The importance of your reputation for cannot be overstated.

You’ve also been developing the life-long personal and professional relationships which may be very helpful as you as you navigate the process.

So, in addition to reading these FAQs (which is also a good place to start), you’ve already begun your journey to the bench.

Q.  I am currently a law student or young attorney and am considering a judicial career as a potential long-term goal.  How should I go about building a resume that would impress an appointment commission and the Governor?

A.  The Arizona Supreme Court Commission on Minorities in the Judiciary regularly presents the Chris Nakamura Judicial Appointment Workshop.  At that workshop, members of judicial selection commissions, judges and justices who have successfully secured appointment and representatives of the Governor’s office candidly provide their thoughts on the features of the strongest judicial applicants. If you are considering a judicial career, even if you are not eligible to apply for several years, you should not miss the opportunity to hear from those most knowledgeable about that process.

The judicial selection committees contact both an applicant’s references and those attorneys who have been adversaries in individual cases.  For this reason, a track record of integrity, professionalism and collegiality is crucial to impress a commission.  At the Nakamura workshops, commissioners have also emphasized the importance of contributions to the community through public service, contributions to the legal profession through bar activity and litigation experience in the court for which you are seeking appointment.

Q:  How important is my reputation when applying to the bench?

A:  Your reputation is your most valuable asset.

If given the choice between having all your worldly possessions destroyed or having your reputation destroyed, choose the former.  With your reputation intact, you can regain your worldly possessions.  But once your reputation is destroyed, all the money in the world won’t get it back.

Litigation is adversarial.  Lawyers can and should disagree.  In fact, that’s why judges exist.  But in disagreeing, lawyers don’t need to be disagreeable.

Be humble in victory.  Be gracious in defeat.  Be fair.  Be mindful that the legal community is small and your reputation for technical competence, fairness and professional demeanor precede you wherever you go or whatever job you apply for.  Make it a good one.

Q:  Apart from gaining relevant legal experience, what are some other things I can do to help me be a competitive judicial candidate?

A:  Get involved!  Community service is important.  Bar service is important.  In addition to being rewarding in their own right, these types of activities can help strengthen you judicial application.  They also allow you to meet others who can serve as mentors and can be a wonderful source of connections to others.  It doesn’t really matter what you’re involved with, it’s that you’re involved that’s important.  So pick something you’re passionate about and get involved.  Or, find something to get involved with then get passionate about it.  Either way, get involved.  You won’t regret it.

Q:  There currently no judicial recruitments for the court I’d like to serve on.  Is there anything I can do before a vacancy is announced to help me in the process?
A:  Absolutely!  Now is the time to prepare. Most judicial recruitments are open for about a month or so and because of the often lengthy and detailed application, some believe that by the time a vacancy is announced, it may already be too late to adequately prepare if you haven’t already started.

One of the best things you can do now is to obtain a copy of the application for the court you’ll be applying for before there is a vacancy.  This will give you plenty of time to start filing it out and will be a great guide for the types of thing that are important to the decision makers.

It will also give you time to contemplate what the application asks for and give you the opportunity to thoughtfully respond.  It can also help you see where you may have a weakness while you still have time to remedy it.

It also lets you know what kind of references will be required and will give you time to strategize about the whole process and confer with your mentors.

Another good idea is to review the judicial applications of others.  Often these are often posted online during application processes and are a great opportunity to see how others have approached the application and can give you good ideas as to what is effective and persuasive.

Having a working draft of the application before the vacancy is announced will allow you hit the ground running.  Thirty days may seem like a long time but it’s not.  You’ll want to be ready so you can have others give you input without being rushed.

It’s never too early to start the process.

Q:  What’s the first step in becoming a judge in Arizona?

A:  Probably the first step is to decide which court you would like to serve on.  There are many courts in Arizona and they all have different requirements and selection processes you’ll have to navigate.

There are limited jurisdiction courts where judges are elected and some where they are appointed.  The same goes for the superior court, depending on the county.  Appellate judges and federal judges are appointed.

Once you decide on the court, you’ll need to investigate how those judges are selected and begin your work towards becoming a judge with that specific selection process in mind.

Q:  What is the most important quality for me to have as I go through the process of becoming a judge?
A:  Persistence.  The competition for judicial positions is great and the application process is long and arduous.  Very few people become judges on their first attempt.  But one thing that all judges have in common is that they were persistent.  They didn’t quit.  We don’t want you to quit either.

Don’t get discouraged.  Even if you did not get this position, you are setting the stage for the next opening.  When trying to decide between many highly qualified candidates, the degrees of separation are often razor thin and the person selected may have just been in the right place at the right time.  The appointing authority may have wanted to appoint you but only had one position and for reasons beyond your control selected another applicant.  To some extent there is a queue.  The appointing authority may have you in line for the next position.  Don’t take yourself out of the mix by not applying for the next position.  Be persistent.

Q.  I have previously applied for a judicial position and did not secure an interview.  Would I be wasting my time to apply again?

A.  You would not be wasting you time to apply again.  In fact, most currently sitting judges and justices did not secure appointment on their first application.  An unsuccessful first application should be viewed as a learning experience.  After the position has been filled, and before another vacancy has been announced, most commissioners on selection committees are willing to provide candid feedback to unsuccessful applicants.  This can include advice on how a resume may be bolstered over time – or how an interview presentation may be polished for the very next vacancy.

Occasionally, commissioners will reach out, unsolicited, to unsuccessful applicants to encourage them to apply again in the future.