Nation’s first college for judges announces first-ever course to help lawyers become judges

The National Judicial College – the nation’s first college for judges – is launching something unheard of in the United States: a practical course for attorneys who aspire to become judges.

The College is currently accepting applications for its first Judicial Academy, which will be held Oct. 14-18 at the College’s headquarters on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. Attorneys with significant experience and demonstrated high ethical standards are encouraged to apply through the College’s website, Enrollment is expected to be limited to 40.

Participants will learn about a judge’s many responsibilities as well as strategies for attaining a judgeship, be it through appointment or election. Instructors will include veteran judges, professionals in charge of judicial selection, and experts on judicial election campaigns. Multiple chief justices of state supreme courts have expressed a desire to address the participants.

Why such a course is unheard of

The idea of teaching people how to become a judge is literally foreign to the United States.

Some states organize events akin to career days to encourage people (especially underrepresented minorities) to consider judicial careers. But unlike many other countries, the United States has no formal system of preparing candidates for the bench. No U.S. law school offers a degree, a major or even a course in how to conduct a trial or hearing or handle the other responsibilities of a judge.

In the United States, the overwhelming majority of judges are attorneys who were elected or appointed to their posts without any prior judicial education. For many, their only preparation before putting on a robe is an orientation lasting less than a day.

Scores of new judges also come to The National Judicial College each year for the NJC’s two-week General Jurisdiction introductory course for new trial judges or corresponding courses for administrative law judges and limited jurisdiction judges. The College offers dozens of courses for experienced judges on subjects such as decision making, judicial writing, handling capital cases and avoiding bias.

In a 2018 poll of National Judicial College alumni, 68 percent said they began their careers with no formal judicial education. One judge recalled, “I didn’t [have any preparation] other than, ‘Here’s your robe, here’s your courtroom, now go preside over your first felony jury trial on your second day.’”

In his 2018 book You Are Not a Lawyer Anymore: A Primer for Those Who Want to Be a Good Judge, retired judge T. W. “Chip” Small writes, “Doctors go to medical school, lawyers go to law school, law enforcement officers go to the police academy. Judges … nothing.”

NJC President Benes Z. Aldana said, “One of our objectives in creating this program is to spark a national conversation on how we prepare people – or rather how we don’t prepare them – to take on the difficult and extremely important role of judge.”

“A course like this is long overdue,” said one of the Judicial Academy faculty, attorney Mark I. Harrison, former president of the State Bar of Arizona’s Board of Governors. “Many countries around the world prepare people to serve as judges long before they take the bench. We need to do more to ensure our judges are capable of performing this vital role from Day 1.”

The College’s aim in launching the Judicial Academy is to identify a diverse group of experienced attorneys, teach them, and pair them with mentor judges so they can hit the ground running and administer justice fairly and expertly.

The program also aims to increase diversity on the bench, so applicants from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

Program details

When: October 14-18, 2019

Where: The National Judicial College on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno

Tuition: $1,349, which includes all materials, plus a $349 conference fee that covers breakfast and lunch every day and an evening banquet. Scholarships may be available.

Apply by May 30 at

Prerequisites: Enrollment is limited to attorneys with prior courtroom experience who have not been disciplined for their conduct as an attorney.

Ed Cohen, Director of Communications/Marketing, 775-327-8285


Created more than a half-century ago at the recommendation of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, The National Judicial College remains the only educational institution in the United States that teaches courtroom skills to judges of all types from all over the country, Indian Country and abroad. Judges served by this nonprofit and nonpartisan institution decide more than 95 percent of the cases in the United States

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