Criminal Practice

Criminal Law is a broad area of practice and study. It includes the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, the representation of individuals and corporations suspected or accused of crimes as well as those who have been victimized by others, and policy work surrounding the criminal justice system. Practicing criminal lawyers work in offices of the U.S. Department of Justice, state attorneys general, local district attorneys, public defenders, and private firms. They lead investigations; interview, counsel and prepare witnesses; draft motions; try cases before judges and juries; and argue cases on appeal. Those involved in policy work may advocate for victims’ rights, prisoners’ rights, and lobby for changes in legislation and procedure. Even attorneys who do not practice criminal law need an understanding of this area, as their clients may need guidance or a referral to someone who specializes in this area.

Villanova Law offers numerous courses related to Criminal Law, including the Criminal Law course in the first semester and a first-year elective in Criminal Procedure: Investigation. As the practice of Criminal Law involves both trial and appellate practice, students interested in this field should enroll in courses designed to develop and hone those skills.

Upper-level courses develop a student’s understanding of the more complex issues of substance and procedure that arise in criminal cases and investigations. In the annual Villanova Sentencing Workshop, students, sitting Pennsylvania Common Pleas judges, members of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and prosecution and defense attorneys discuss the complexities of real-life criminal sentencing and sentencing policy through the lens of pre-screened and redacted actual cases.

The School is also home to the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, which educates and provides technical assistance to policy makers, law enforcement officials and others who respond to commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania, as well as throughout the United States and beyond, to promote victim-centered, trauma-informed multidisciplinary collaboration.

Students interested in this area are also encouraged to pursue an externship in the field. A hallmark of Villanova’s educational experience, our externship program offers placements throughout the criminal justice system. Externships are supervised by both an on-site field instructor and a full-time faculty member who works closely with each student to monitor progress and to ensure overall professional development.

The below list highlights Villanova Law courses that are fundamentally associated with this practice area.

Of the courses listed below, the foundational doctrinal courses—Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, Constitutional Law and Torts—and an upper level Legal Writing (Transactional or Litigation) are required. The remaining courses are helpful but not required for those interested in the field.

  • Corporate and White Collar Crime
  • Crime and Emerging Technology
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure: Adjudication
  • Criminal Procedure: Investigation
  • Death Penalty: Theory and Practice
  • Evidence
  • Negotiation and Mediation Advocacy
  • Police Conduct Seminar
  • Sentencing and Punishment
  • Trial Advocacy: Advanced (Criminal)
  • Villanova Sentencing Workshop

The below list highlights Villanova Law courses that are related, but not necessarily essential to this practice area. Students interested in this field may consider enrolling in these courses to supplement their studies. 

  • Civil Rights Litigation: Enforcing the Constitution
  • Interviewing/Counseling
  • Law and Economics




  • Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Bucks County District Attorney's Office
  • Bucks County Public Defender
  • Chester County District Attorney's Office
  • Criminal Justice Center
  • Defender Association of Philadelphia
  • Delaware County District Attorney's Office
  • Judicial Externships
  • Montgomery County District Attorney's Office
  • Montgomery County Juvenile Justice
  • Montgomery County Office of the Public Defender
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project
  • Philadelphia District Attorney's Office
  • Philadelphia District Attorney's Office (Trial Division)
  • U.S. Department of Justice