The NJC is presenting this 4.5-day program to 40 selected participants who want to be trial judges. The NJC will endeavor to select a diverse participant class (age, race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and national or ethnic origin.) to help in the national effort to ensure a diverse judiciary.
The program will answer the following questions for judicial candidates:
- How should the candidates prepare themselves and their families for the journey to becoming judges?
- What substantive content knowledge do candidates need to master?
- How should candidates conduct themselves on social media and in public?
- What judicial ethical rules are candidates bound by?
- How will those ethics rules impact their behavior and the behavior of their families?
The Academy will emphasize a “learn by doing” dynamic featuring judges, judicial selection professionals, and other experts who will help the participating lawyers discover ways to seek judicial positions and to build strong foundations for serving in the role. The Academy will also feature a panel of supreme court justices speaking about their experiences.
Participant Qualifications and Future Expectations
Judicial candidates should have the essential qualities to be good judges: integrity; knowledge of the law; intelligence; knowledge of implicit biases; the ability to apply the law fairly; the capacity to make timely decisions; the courage to make difficult decisions; compassion; humility; patience; and the personal skills to preside over a courtroom with appropriate demeanor and courtesy to all participants. Judges must be non-political arbiters of the law. Society expects them to be impartial and, perhaps just as importantly, appear to be impartial.
Society also expects judges to serve as leaders in their communities. The Model Code of Judicial Conduct encourages judges to educate the public about the administration of justice, ways to improve it, and about the legal system in general.
Preparation for the Role
During the program, expert faculty and participating attorneys will engage in discussions about their own judicial philosophies after examining legal and judicial history, theory and philosophy. Participants will learn about the types of pressures judges’ face that differ from their current roles and how those pressures can impact their families. They will receive a behind-the-scenes look at what judges do that most trial lawyers are not aware of. They will also discover resources in all areas of the law that will help them to master their work.
Participants will learn about when they can and cannot engage on social media and whether they should. They will be able to define how to manage difficult persons in their courtrooms. They will engage with the faculty about managing public pressure and making decisions in sometimes difficult situations. They will gain an understanding of how implicit biases can impact their decision-making and recognize that all human beings have biases that require confrontation. The faculty will address how the role of the judge differs from advocacy and effective methods for transitioning. Some court cases are emotionally difficult. The participants will learn strategies for keeping themselves emotionally healthy. During the Chief Justices’ Panel, they will be able to engage with current and former chief justices to learn from leaders in the judiciary. They will examine the ethical rules that judges are bound by, and recognize how the judicial role will change their lives. They will learn from a security expert about methods for keeping themselves and their families safe. Finally, they will assess their own decision-making styles and interpret how their styles differ from their fellow participants.
After participating in the 4.5-day intensive academy, judicial candidates will be able to:
- Outline ways to prepare for, and participate in, judicial selection processes effectively (for states in which judges are appointed);
- Outline ways to run an effective election campaign (for election states);
- Define “dark money” and assess how candidates can avoid this and other ethical traps in judicial elections;
- Summarize what judges can expect regarding judicial compensation (both salary and benefits);
- Describe the political landscape for trial court judges in the United States;
- Identify judicial selection trends across the country;
- Define how they should conduct themselves on social media and in public as they prepare to enter the judiciary;
- Differentiate between the perceptions of the judicial role and reality;
- Describe the responsibilities of judges (e.g., interpreting the law, assessing the evidence presented, controlling hearings and trials, deciding impartially, mediating and settling disputes, leading court improvement projects, sentencing criminal defendants, terminating parental rights, using good temperament);
- Identify the emotional issues that judges confront (e.g., sentencing defendants; terminating parental rights; deciding difficult cases; being in the public eye during controversial cases; security concerns);
- Summarize the impact of the judicial role on their personal and professional lives;
- Outline the benefits and drawbacks of taking the bench;
- Define their roles in court administration and court committees;
- Identify the ethical rules that judges are bound by;
- Apply judicial ethics rules to their circumstances (e.g., restrictions on investments, fundraising, exclusive memberships, professional associations, friendships, bar association activity, family members, gifts, writing recommendation letters, running a campaign, seeking appointment);
- Manage difficult people, including judicial peers, lawyers, self-represented litigants, jurors, court staff;
- Manage public pressure to decide in certain ways;
- Summarize the importance of judicial security and methods for keeping safe in courthouses and in their homes; and
- Serve as trial judges with confidence.