The United States judiciary branch has within it several individual court systems, starting at the local level with which most citizens are familiar and proceeded upward to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before any case can be heard in that final forum, it must first filter upward through the lesser courts and then to the United States Court of Appeals also known as the Circuit Courts. These are the federal trial courts of the United States. There are 13 Circuits in this system, 10 of which are geographically located throughout the U.S. and an 11th that covers the District of Columbia. The final two Circuits are the Armed Forces Circuit and the Federal Circuit. Appointment of appellate judges to the Circuit Courts is done under the guidelines set forth in the U.S. Constitution.
Obtain an undergraduate degree and then attend law school. Although no where in the U.S. Constitution is there a requirement stipulating that a judge must be a lawyer to be appointed to the bench, in reality this is the logical first step. Even though there are judges on lesser benches throughout the country who are not members of the bar, it is more an oddity than a normal occurrence and there are efforts to erase what some see as a blatant oversight. After all, one would assume an intimate knowledge of the law would be a prerequisite to serving in the legal branch of government.
Become a practicing attorney by completing law school, receiving your law degree and passing the bar exam in your state.
Practice law. This is not merely where one gathers experience and knowledge; it is also where lifelong connections are made and where an appointment committee or Governor would likely look when seeking out judges.
Have impeccable credentials. Many a potential judge has seen his or her chances crumble when past missteps have come out during the intense vetting process that goes along with higher profile judgeships.
Apply to a lesser court. Although previous bench service is also not a requirement for appointment to the Circuit Court, it is a natural stepping stone. District Courts are a good springboard to Circuits Courts.
Play politics. It goes without saying that the more well-connected to appointing bodies a candidate is, the more likely he or she will be selected for the post. In the case of the Circuit Courts, appointees are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The President, however, does not work alone. People in power, including congressmen, senators, cabinet members, and others with ties to the President, often work to compile lists of potential candidates to present to the President for consideration. Having your name placed on that exclusive list is a long shot, but longer if you have done nothing to make a name for yourself within the legal world.
Accept the nomination of the President of the United States.
Go through the vetting process. In addition to proving your worthiness to the Justice Department and members of congress, and making it through the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the nomination process, you can expect a thorough investigation of your business life and your private affairs.
Receive confirmation of the U.S. Senate by obtaining a two-thirds majority of senate votes and assume the judgeship and its life time tenure.