Average Salary: $102,980
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $4,299,000
If you’re thinking of using the scales of justice to measure your wealth as a judge, put the blindfold on as well. If you don’t, you’ll just be reminded of what you could be earning in private practice. For now, as a government employee, you’ll have to settle for inner beauty beneath the robe and toadying lawyers paying you compliments.
"Are you sure you're not Brad Pitt?"
The average income for state judges, mediators, and other hearing officers is in the $90k to $100k range–still less than what your law clerk will make after his year-long stint when he’ll practice at Quibbles & Bickers. The legal system is fond of hierarchy, and generally the higher up on the judicial ladder, the more the judge will earn. United States circuit (i.e., appellate) judges earn around $180k, while district judges make closer to $170k. If you happen to make it to the Supreme Court of the United States, you’ll earn in the low $200k's, but who’s keeping score at that point? States will pay in similar increments, but not nearly as much as the federal system.
Incidentally, the Constitution forbids Congress from ever decreasing a federal judge’s salary. It also says nothing about having to increase it either, even to adjust for inflation. So if you put in a bad word about a senator’s son to the dean of admissions at Harvard about that time he wore your robe and sat in your chair with no pants on, you can keep your job, but don’t count on a raise (or a new chair). In fact, the stagnation of federal judicial pay has been a motive in judges moving into private practice, where they may earn seven times as much as before.
State judges are usually elected, which means that they’ll have to canvass for votes to get higher position if they want better pay. Federal judges are appointed and can be promoted by appointment once they’re in and do a good job. So the next time you read an exceptionally well-written opinion by a magistrate judge, you’ll know she’s itching for a district judgeship. Conversely, legal reasoning that is supported either with only, “This is still America, right?” or “I’m the law” is usually the moniker of someone very lazy or very rich.