Aspiring criminal lawyers can take focused courses on this topic on the way to earning a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. They may also participate in criminal law clinics that provide real-world training in the field. Three highly ranked law schools - Harvard University, Stanford University, and Cornell University - have some of the best criminal law programs in the United States. These universities offer Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree programs and clinical education opportunities. Two of the schools also have criminal justice centers for in-depth study of criminal law, and they were all highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report for 2017.
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Famous alumni of Harvard Law School include President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Harvard Law School tied as the 2nd-best law school in the United States on U.S. News & World Report's 2017 ranking. 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, through which 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.
Stanford University in California
Stanford University 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 2017 as the 2nd-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.
Find schools that offer these popular programs
- Advanced Legal Research
- Comparative Law
- Energy and Environmental Law
- Financial, Banking, and Securities Law
- Health Law
- International Business, Trade, and Tax Law
- International Law
- Law Degree
- PreLaw Studies
- Programs for Foreign Lawyers
- Tax Law
- US Law
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York
Cornell Law School hosts more than a dozen clinics, including the Criminal Defense Clinic and the Prosecution Clinic. Cornell Law School was ranked #13 among all law schools in the country for 2017 by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers a criminal defense trial clinic in which law students get experience defending individuals charged with crimes in local courts. Students' duties include client interviews, witness preparation, case research, negotiations with the district attorney's office, and court appearances. In addition to this hands-on training, students also take a class that includes lecture, discussion, and court simulations.
Top Criminal Law Schools
In addition to Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell, several other respected schools offer programs in criminal law:
|University of California - Berkeley||Berkeley, CA||Home to the Death Penalty Clinic|
|University of California - Los Angeles||Los Angeles, CA||First school to host a national moot court competition focused on cyber crimes|
|University of Chicago||Chicago, IL||The Law School hosts the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project|
|University of Michigan - Ann Arbor||Ann Arbor, MI||Hosts more than a dozen clinics and professional learning opportunities, including the Civil-Criminal Litigation Clinic, Criminal Appellate Practice, and the Michigan Innocence Clinic|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, PA||The law school houses the Criminal Law Research Group|
|University of Texas at Austin||Austin, TX||The Criminal Defense Clinic allows students to gain experience as 'first chair' attorneys under supervision|
|University of Virginia||Charlottesville, VA||Practical learning is available through the Criminal Defense Clinic, the Innocence Project Clinic, and the Prosecution Clinic|
For law students who want to focus on criminal law, some of the highest-ranked law schools in the country provide both theoretical coursework and hands-on training through law clinics.