The Bench-Bar Section of the MSBA recently presented What It’s Like to Be a Judge, a virtual panel discussion. During the program, Justice Angela M. Eaves, Judges Dan Friedman, Douglas R. M. Nazarian, and Lisa Hall Johnson, Former Judge Steven I. Platt, and Magistrate Kevin R. Hill addressed numerous topics, including the transition from the bar to the bench, work-life balance on the bench, and the pros and cons of being a judge. Administrative Law Judge Rachael Barnett served as the moderator. 

The program kicked off with Judges Platt and Nazarian explaining why they wanted to become judges. Judge Platt’s work clerking and campaigning for judges inspired him, while Judge Nazarian was drawn to the idea of focusing on the correct legal outcome in a case rather than focusing on client advocacy. The panel then discussed the changes they experienced after taking the bench, namely becoming more visible in the community and refraining from taking certain actions or positions publicly. Judge Hall Johnson found being restrained from engaging in various activities in the community to be the most difficult part of the transition from bar to bench. Generally, the panel reported that their work-life balance greatly improved when they became judges.

Judge Platt then discussed his new book, Lessons Lived and Learned: My Life On and Off the Bench, in which, as the title suggests, he provides a historical account of the Maryland judiciary over four decades. 

Becoming a judge has had a significant impact on Judge Hall Johnson, as she had to find a balance and outlet for the intense nature of the job. She noted that the job also affects relationships, particularly with practicing attorneys, as there are limitations on discussing pending cases. She found that being a judge is not just a nine-to-five job; it becomes a part of who you are and how you are perceived in the community. 

Judge Nazarian shared he had a similar experience. Private practice offered little control, while being a judge provides greater authority with regard to scheduling and proceedings. There is also a sense of isolation, however, and the need to be cautious about what is said and how relationships are managed. 

The limitations associated with being a judge, like having to be cautious on social media and the lack of spontaneity in interactions, can be seen as drawbacks, but Justice Eaves finds the perspective gained from the role provides her with a greater appreciation of other people’s circumstances. Magistrate Hill finds that he must make deliberate efforts to prioritize his personal health. Recess is a judge’s best friend, he said, as it allows him to regroup and provide a productive courtroom environment.

The discussion also touched on the changing perception of judges and the judiciary in the community, including increased public criticism. The participants acknowledged the evolving tensions and the need to adapt to the changing landscape. 

The MSBA’s Sections regularly offer programs tailored to provide key information and valuable insights for attorneys across all practice areas and at every stage of their careers. You can learn more about the MSBA’s upcoming events and classes here