A career in the judiciary

What it's about

For those of you with an inclination towards public service and/or the trappings of state authority, the judiciary can be a worthwhile option. Not only is it a way to remain closely connected with the law throughout your professional life, but also one that offers the satisfaction of working for the good of society-an intellectually stimulating profession where you shall command the respect of the common man.

There are two avenues open to become a member of the judiciary. The first and better known one is to start a litigation practice and hope to get elevated to the bench. The other option is to participate in the competitive process for the judicial services.

Every High Court has under its supervision the members of the subordinate judiciary of the state(s) over which this High Court has jurisdiction. Members of the subordinate judiciary (popularly known as the judicial service or the PCS (J)-Provincial Civil Service-Judicial) occupy the offices of the presiding officers of various courts right up to the post of District Judge. There are several attractive features of these judicial services including handsome perks and privileges which include among others- rent free accommodation, fuel allowances, subsidized electricity and water supplies, telephone allowances and bursaries for children's education. These are significantly better then those of civil service officers. Add to this the increased remuneration structures of the 6th Pay Commission and you've got a highly rewarding job on your hands-and the best part is yet to come. Unlike administrators or police officers, judicial officers almost always have postings in district headquarters so they never have to serve in remote areas. This allows them to have a reasonably enjoyable lifestyle too.

The judicial services have two entry levels. The first is for fresh graduates through an entrance exam conducted by the respective state public service commissions (UP, MP, Rajasthan etc.) or the High Court ( Delhi). The syllabus for these exams can be found on the website of the commissions and includes law subjects along with English, general knowledge and the local language of the state. An entry through this avenue assures you of time based promotions and a secured employment early on in your career.

The second avenue through which you may join the judicial service is known as the Higher Judicial Service (HJS). This service is open for lawyers with a certain prescribed minimum years of litigating practice, usually seven. Applicants have to appear for a competitive examination for entry to the HJS the syllabus for which is similar to the one described above. The advantage with this option is that if selected the applicant gets posted as an additional district judge which significantly hastens promotional prospects.

The subordinate judiciary has a fixed quota (which varies with each High Court) for elevation to the High Court. Towards this end the prospects of HJS members are better since they get senior posts at a younger age. The flip side however, is that it is relatively more difficult to clear the HJS exam (seats being lesser) as well as to prepare for it. Having practiced for seven or more years, a lawyer may find it tough to prepare for a competitive examination-as opposed to appearing for one just after graduation.

All said and done, you must consider before you take the plunge into the judicial service, that the chances of a member for the lower judiciary making his way all the way up the ladder are rather remote. Hence if you harbour dreams of becoming a Supreme Court judge someday then this may not be the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you want a secure and safe career and wish to be in public service, albeit with a comfortable compensation package-instead of the vagaries of litigation, then the judicial services may well be the right choice for you.