Best Criminal Law Programs: List of Top Schools

Learn about two 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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Criminal Law School Overviews

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

Harvard Law School was ranked the second best law school in the United States by U.S. News & World Report in 2010. 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

Stanford Law School was ranked in 2010 as the third best law school in the nation by 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.

Good Schools for Criminal Law

College/University Name Distinction Location
Cornell University Hosts more than a dozen clinics, including the Criminal Defense Clinic, the Innocence Clinic, the Legal Aid Clinic, and the Prosecution Clinic Ithaca, NY
New York University Houses the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law New York, NY
Stanford University Hosts the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and the Stanford Three Strikes Project, the only one of its kind in the nation Stanford, CA
University of California - Berkeley Home to the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice and the Death Penalty Clinic, as well as The Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law Berkeley, CA
University of California - Los AngelesFirst 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 AustinCriminal Defense Clinic allows students to gain experience as 'first chair' attorneys under supervisionAustin, TX
University of VirginiaPractical learning is available through the Criminal Defense Clinic, the Innocence Project Clinic and the Prosecution ClinicCharlottesville, VA
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