By Jedidiah McKeehan

Being a judge sounds like a cool job, right?  You get to wear that fancy robe and get to make decisions all day regarding people’s lives.  Oh, and you get to bang one of those gavels, and yell, “you are out of order!”  Who wouldn’t want to be a judge?  How can I be one?

Well let’s talk about how someone actually becomes a judge in Tennessee.  First and foremost, if you are a federal judge, none of what I’m about to tell you really applies because federal judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States.

State judges though, are elected, so they have to run for office like any other political office.  Judges are typically elected for 8-year terms.

Tennessee Code Annotated section 17-1-101 and the following sections discuss the requirements to be a Tennessee judge.  First and foremost, a judge for the Tennessee Supreme Court must be 35 years of age.  For all other Tennessee judgeships, the individual must be 30 years of age.  These requirements are very easy to meet because if you graduate college in four years and law school three years after that, you are going to be around 25 years of age when you start practicing law and most attorneys do not run for judge until they have been practicing law for a while.

That brings me to one of the next qualifications to be a judge is that you have to be authorized to practice law in Tennessee.  Occasionally I will hear stories from older attorneys who practiced law before judges who simply ran for a judgeship and got elected without having ever practiced law (this was before the law was enacted that judges be licensed to practice law).  Surprisingly, the stories I have heard are that these non-lawyers did just fine as judges despite never having gone to law school or worked as an attorney.

The judges also have to live in the district where they are judge.  For example, if someone is a judge in Knox County, they have to live in Knox County.  However, some districts encompass multiple counties.  Roane, Loudon, Morgan and Meigs counties are all in the same judicial district, so a judge would have to live in one of these counties to qualify for a judgeship for that judicial district.

Some districts simply do not have any attorneys living in their district.  For example, some of the small cities/towns will hold court once a month to handle traffic tickets handed out.  If no attorney actually lives in that municipality, the municipality can obviously get someone from outside the district to act as the judge.  Small municipalities typically do not have elections for their judges and often their city or county commissioners elect someone to fill that role.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.