Best Criminal Law Programs: List of Top Schools

Learn about three top law schools with specialized criminal law programs. Find out about school rankings and clinical education opportunities for law students so that you can compare programs and make an informed decision.

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School Information

Two highly ranked law schools, Harvard University and Stanford University, have the best criminal law programs in the United States. These universities are located on opposite U.S. coasts, but have similar criminal law programs that include Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree programs and clinical education opportunities. Both schools also have criminal justice centers for in-depth study of criminal law.

1. Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts

School Highlight: Famous alumni of Harvard Law include President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts.

Harvard Law School was tied for the second best law school ranking in the United States by U.S. News & World Report in 2015. Harvard Law's Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) is one of seven study programs that law students can follow. CJI courses cover litigation, policy making and research, sociology of crime and punishment, public policy and criminal justice reform in global contexts. Third-year students can participate in clinical education, where they handle real-life cases under the supervision of law professors. As part of these clinics, CJI students go into local courts and represent adults and juveniles accused of crimes, including misdemeanors and felonies. Criminal justice-related law clinics at Harvard include those in criminal prosecution, death penalty, war crimes prosecution and government lawyer as prosecutor.

2. Stanford University in California

School Highlight: Stanford hosts the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and the Stanford Three Strikes Project, the only one of its kind in the nation.

Stanford Law School tied with Harvard in 2015 as the second best law school in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report. First-year J.D. students complete the standard law school curriculum in criminal law, contracts, legal research and constitutional law. During the second and third years of study, students interested in criminal law can take coursework at the Stanford Criminal Justice Center in adjudication, investigation, juvenile crime, sentencing and correction, mass incarceration and white collar crime. Law students can practice their legal skills at the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford, which offers students eleven clinics on select areas of law. These include clinics on criminal prosecution, immigrant rights, life-sentenced criminals and Supreme Court litigation.

Top Criminal Law Schools

College/University Name Distinction Location
Cornell University Hosts more than a dozen clinics, including the Criminal Defense Clinic and the Prosecution Clinic Ithaca, NY
New York University Houses the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law New York, NY
University of California - Berkeley Home to the Death Penalty Clinic Berkeley, CA
University of California - Los Angeles First school to host a national moot court competition focused on cyber crimes Los Angeles, CA
University of Chicago The Law School hosts the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project Chicago, IL
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Hosts more than a dozen clinics and professional learning opportunities, including the Civil-Criminal Litigation Clinic, Criminal Appellate Practice and the Michigan Innocence Clinic Ann Arbor, MI
University of Pennsylvania The law school houses the Criminal Law Research Group Philadelphia, PA
University of Texas at Austin Criminal Defense Clinic allows students to gain experience as 'first chair' attorneys under supervision Austin, TX
University of Virginia Practical learning is available through the Criminal Defense Clinic, the Innocence Project Clinic and the Prosecution Clinic Charlottesville, VA
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