Criminal Law Programs

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Criminal Law Programs

Postby cesmoc » Wed Jun 30, 2010 6:27 pm

I have been researching various T10 law schools and it seems that there aren't too many that have specific concentrations in criminal law or they do not have criminal law programs. I am interested in becoming a criminal prosecutor at the county level after law school and I would like to apply to as many schools as possible that specialize in criminal law.

It seemed like NYU has one of the biggest crim law programs around. Are there any others?

Thanks for all the help TLSers!


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Re: Criminal Law Programs

Postby CanadianWolf » Wed Jun 30, 2010 6:35 pm

I believe that Northwestern University School of Law has one of the most elite & widely read law journals that focuses exclusively on criminal law. Additionally Northwestern has a very well respected & prolific innocence type project for the wrongfully convicted. Also opportunities to interview with the second largest state attorney's office in the country & plenty of courtroom action nearby.


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Re: Criminal Law Programs

Postby Stevenson » Wed Jun 30, 2010 7:47 pm

There is the same lack of coherent program offerings at the LLM level (I have seen one that focuses on criminal science / forensics and the law, for example, I believe at Pepperdine). I think there are a combined set of reasons for this:
(1) top tier programs cater to students from across the country and place students everywhere once they graduate, while criminal law is very different depending on the jurisdiction and is therefore hard to teach in classrooms while maintaining relevancy to the students;
(2) Anyone who goes to a top 14 law school can easily get a job in State or Federal prosecutorial work, and very easily get a job in defense work, if they do the right internships and externships. Not a whole lot of third tier students want to work for 35k a year and deal with the myriad petty and egregious indignities that are involved with the criminal justice system, let alone illustrious Harvard Alumni;
(3) Probably nowhere else in law is Holmes's dictum about the life of the law being experience more applicable than in the Criminal law context. Classroom experience is of limited real use, frankly.

Once you get into law school, or while you are looking at specific schools, you should notice that most of the courses are not in criminal law. Most schools offer a few procedure courses and one or two substantive criminal law courses as core courses, and perhaps a few seminars and subject-specific courses, perhaps on fourth amendment issues or something. Much of the basics can be covered in constitutional law courses, at least the ones with universal applicability across federal and state jurisdictional lines. But the rest of the stuff, the actual LAW (the code, elements of crimes, etc) is highly state specific. Even in states that have adopted the Model Penal Code, you get different names, different levels of severity, etc. What is a felony in one state is a misdemeanor in another. Any law school you would be considering will offer clinical experience, most states now have innocence projects you can hook up with, and all good schools should offer something in conjunction with the state prosecutors office, the public defenders office, etc.

My advice to you would be
(1) figure out what sort of criminal attorney you want to be. (and if you don't know yet, go somewhere where you will have exposure to all sorts of law, i.e. not the middle of nowhere, i.e. Palo Alto / New Haven)

If you have a strong interest in the public service angle (prosecutorial or defense), keep in mind that you aren't going to be making a ton of money when you get out, even if you end up doing federal prosecutions. Starting salaries have little to do with the pedigree of your JD, and you might want to consider taking your amazing LSAT and stellar UGPA and going to a really solid (but not necessarily top 10) urban school that tosses a bit more money your way for the benefit of pushing up their medians. The Yale degree might land you the job, but if you end up in the Public Defender's office in Manhattan, you will get paid the same as the guy who took night classes at Brooklyn Law School, and if he is a cop, he will probably know a hell of a lot more about "how things actually work" (something most law schools do poorly in the criminal context) than you do. Alternatively, if you want to do white collar, Johnnie Cochran level, big money criminal defense, by all means, the degree will help land you the interview and the job and is probably worth the expense. Of course, you can't put a price on your soul... :wink:

(2) Do at least one judicial externship or internship in a trial court where you are getting criminal trial exposure. Many people go into criminal practice having no practical understanding of how judges think about criminal matters. While all judges are not the same, it is an important and often overlooked experience at top ten schools. A lot of people want appellate clerkships, but trial courts are where the majority of criminal cases are decided. Very few go up on appeals. It is basically practical knowledge vs. academic experience, and appeals courts are very academic.

(3) If you want to go Federal, that is, work for the Justice Department, going to a top 14 school will help get you into the Justice Department internship program, but you need to familiarize yourself with the requirements, which involve doing quite well GPA/Rankwise. Going to a less "amazing" school (i.e. Georgetown, Washington and Lee) might be strategically wiser than going to Harvard or Yale, in this respect, somewhere where you aren't competing with the next Antonin Scalia for your class rank. The Justice Department internship program is really the key to federal prosecutorial jobs, and even if you decide against the Justice Department, with that sort of criminal law background you can write your ticket wherever you go state-wise. The Justice Department recruits heavily from those internship slots, and there are VERY few of them, so you need to start working on your application almost before the first day of class because of the weird timelines and the paperwork you need to get in order before submission. That said, you can just as easily do the Justice Department internships at American, GW, or Georgetown in DC, and actually being IN DC for these matters because some of them can take place during the year as well, while you are in school, if I am not mistaken. That is a huge bonus for the resume. keep in mind that this is a progression sort of internship. If you get in your first year, you keep doing it if you want. Highly recommended.

(3) If you decide to go somewhere for cheaper or for free with your amazing test scores and gpa, would caution against going to a school that is rural/remote. As you might gather, I consider experience, exposure and opportunity more important (and I think this is supported by the reason behind your question) than education for a career in criminal law. You want to be able to expose yourself as soon as possible to real-world experience. Columbia, Chicago, or NYU might make more sense than Yale, Stanford, or Virginia.

(4) Look into state bar rules governing limited practice licenses. Many states will let you "practice" law (with supervision) in discrete areas (misdemeanor defense / prosecution). If you are planning on going into state criminal practice upon graduation, this is really important experience to get, arguing cases and getting procedure down, before you graduate. However, most states have mandatory credit hour requirements before you can do this sort of thing, so it is important to familiarize yourself with local rules. Pick one where you can start practicing in court asap.

(5) As far as innocence projects go, most states have these on some level now. But Northwestern has a very respected one (lots of innocent people go to jail in Illinois, apparently :wink: ) and Cardozo (not a top ten) has another.

(6) Thinking outside the box is important on this one. Criminal Law is very much about what you know, not really where you go, though a top ten school will always open more doors, it might be more prudent, given the metrics on income and costs, to consider things outside the top 10. Look around at big city prosecutorial training programs. Miami-Dade Co., for one, has a stellar program for recent law grads where you go and really learn the law and get experience. But actually going to Miami for law school is probably a foolish choice if you are seriously considering Harvard or Yale. Call them and ask them where the majority of their applicants pull from. It can't hurt to try.

Once you figure out WHERE and WHAT you want to be (state vs. federal, prosecution vs. defense, private vs. public), it makes it a lot easier. Don't rely on the school to get you there, move your feet and get (valuable) experience. If your goal is to be attorney general in your home state of Nebraska (or wherever) some day, save yourself some money and go to the best state school in the biggest city in your home state, or the best school in the biggest city in the country that will give you the most money. This is all about experience, and since so few top tier grads go into criminal law (at least at the state level where most of the work gets done :wink: ) you won't have much competition if you stay in the top 14-25.

---as far as my qualifications go, while not an alumni of any of the top 10. However, I worked in Career Services at at tier 1 law school and now work in a prosecutors office myself. I know first hand that the most important thing is to get as much experience as possible with whatever law you are going to be dealing with.


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Re: Criminal Law Programs

Postby osmlpz » Wed Jun 30, 2010 8:47 pm

Thanks for all the information Stevenson, I was also interested in advice towards this post. I currently live in Miami, and like the OP I wish to practice Criminal Law. There really isn't a decent criminal law program in the law schools here in Miami. What would you recommend for someone wanting to stay in Florida?

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Re: Criminal Law Programs

Postby merichard87 » Wed Jun 30, 2010 9:03 pm

As some other posters have said criminal law is very difficult to teach in generalities because of the different laws of each land.

With that said my advice would be to either go T14 or go to the best school in your preferred state and network your ass off to make necessary connections. I don't necessarily think you need a specific criminal law program though.

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Re: Criminal Law Programs

Postby NoleinNY » Wed Jun 30, 2010 9:16 pm

Stevenson wrote: Alternatively, if you want to do white collar, Johnnie Cochran level, big money criminal defense, by all means, the degree will help land you the interview and the job and is probably worth the expense.

I agree with most of what you said (including this part)... Though, ironically, Johnnie Cochran (and Mark Geragos of MJ fame) went to Loyola and not T30s.


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Re: Criminal Law Programs

Postby cesmoc » Wed Jun 30, 2010 11:00 pm

Wow, thanks a lot guys! Stevenson, your advice/input is greatly, greatly appreciated.

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Re: Criminal Law Programs

Postby nealric » Wed Jun 30, 2010 11:28 pm

Going to a less "amazing" school (i.e. Georgetown, Washington and Lee) might be strategically wiser than going to Harvard or Yale, in this respect, somewhere where you aren't competing with the next Antonin Scalia for your class rank.

Subtle anti-Georgetown trolling.

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