By Jeremy B. Brooks, Esq.
Applying to become a Maryland state court judge isn’t easy. Here are tips distilled from people who’ve been through the process ← (favorite that page).
Assess Yourself as a Potential Judge. You may have the qualifications and experience to become a judge. Or you may need to work to reach that point.
- Visit the qualifications page on the Maryland Judiciary’s website for the minimum legal qualifications, e.g., residency, age, bar membership, etc.
- Review the Personal Data Questionnaires at the how to apply page for the kinds of experience expected of a judicial applicant. Note: There are two questionnaires — one for district and circuit courts, and one for appellate courts.
- Ask others what they think are your strengths and weaknesses. Pro tip: Listening humbly to feedback may help you identify weaknesses and, remember, digesting different viewpoints is part of being a judge.
Complete the Personal Data Questionnaire. Applicants must fill out the district/circuit or appellate questionnaire on the how to apply page on the Maryland Judiciary’s website. The questionnaire is a deep dive into your history.
- Save time by repurposing data you gathered for earlier applications, e.g., applications to Law School, the Bar, government positions, etc.
- Keep a running curriculum vitae of every lecture you give, and every course, conference, and lecture you attend with date and subject matter. Recording your history as you go is more efficient and accurate than reconstructing it post hoc.
- You will be asked to authorize the transmittal of your completed questionnaire to a list of organizations for review. Pro tip: Although you can exclude any organization from the list, it’s probably a mistake to do so.
Shore Up Your Experience Gaps. When you review the questionnaire, you may find that you lack certain experience. There are ways you can shore up those gaps.
- Train for and try pro bono cases in the area in which you lack experience. Try them in different counties to learn how different county courts operate.
- Observe judges handling the kinds of cases in which you lack experience, and discuss their rulings with them afterward if you can.
- Join a non-profit that’s aligned with the goals of client representation in the area in which you lack experience.
- Attend every continuing legal education class you can to increase your knowledge. Presenters are subject matter experts.
- Pro tip: Shoring up experience gaps can show interviewers your commitment to becoming a judge, and make you an even better lawyer.
Get Involved. The questionnaire on the how to apply page on the Maryland Judiciary’s website covers your business and civic involvement. Consider getting involved in your community if you aren’t already.
- Being actively involved in bar associations not only increases your access to knowledge and current practices, it expands your network of potential references.
- Being actively involved in your community is not only a good in itself, it also demonstrates your commitment to the community and rounds out your understanding of how it works.
- Pro tip: Community involvement broadens your experience beyond the legal profession, which increases your community connection and can help you be a better lawyer.
Line Up Professional References. You will need to submit at least three professional references with your completed questionnaire.
- Your references should address their letters to the Governor.
- Fewer stronger references are better than several weaker references.
- A strong reference list contains a diverse cross-section of legislators, lawyers, judges, community leaders, religious leaders, etc.
- Pro tip: Before asking someone for a reference, find out if they are supporting another applicant for the vacancy you’re seeking.
Prepare for the Interview. You will be interviewed as part of the process. There are actions you can take beforehand to help prepare.
- Join bar judicial selection committees to see who gets appointed, who did well in interviews, how they responded to questions, and learn the kinds of experiences committees are seeking.
- Set up mock interviews as if you’re being interviewed by the organizations listed on the questionnaire. Anticipate their possible questions by researching their websites and discussing them with people who know their interests.
- Pro tip: Enlisting a courtroom lawyer would be invaluable for the mock interview.
Stay Positive. Don’t give up. If not chosen, apply again.
- Ignore rumors and speculation about what the Governor or the Nominating Commission is seeking. The Governor will appoint the best person for the position.
- It’s not only prosecutors who make it to the bench. People from diverse practice areas and backgrounds get there.
- Pro tip: The process of applying to become a judge has little downside. It will improve your lawyering, and your connections to the community you serve.
Jeremy B. Brooks is an Assistant State’s Attorney at the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office.