Joshua Kleinfeld

Professor of Law


Joshua Kleinfeld teaches and writes about the philosophy of law and criminal law and procedure. He also teaches and practices in the juvenile criminal defense clinic. He is a full professor with tenure at the Northwestern Pritzker School of the Law and (by courtesy) in Northwestern’s philosophy department. In 2017-18, he was a visiting professor at Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. 

In criminal law and procedure, his research focuses on the distinctive social function and sense of justice at work in the criminal system. Drawing on the thought of Hegel, Durkheim, and Jean Hampton, he has developed an alternative to retributive and utilitarian theories of criminal law, termed “reconstructivism,” which holds that the chief office of criminal law is to reconstruct a violated normative order in the wake of a crime. He is also involved in efforts to reform criminal justice, connecting philosophy to law in ways meant to respond to the current crisis in American criminal justice.   

In philosophy, his research focuses on the socio-theoretic tradition of Hegel, Weber, and Durkheim, aiming to understand and critique social life by bringing to light the normative ideas implicit in social practices and institutions.  As an approach to jurisprudence, this means that the most interesting philosophical concepts of law are often those reflected or actualized in the practice of law – in the law as judges and lawyers think of it and wield it – and that those embedded ideas-in-practice are a productive way to understand how different conceptions of law might contribute to social order and to justice.

Kleinfeld holds a JD from Yale Law School, a PhD in philosophy from the Goethe University of Frankfurt (supervised by Axel Honneth, Klaus Günther, and Rainer Forst), and a BA in philosophy from Yale College.  He clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; and then-President (chief justice) Aharon Barak of the Supreme Court of Israel.  He worked as an Associate at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in Frankfurt, Germany, in the area of corporate criminal law.  Before law school, he worked as a Senior Research Analyst at the White House’s Council on Bioethics. 

View Full Bio

Areas of Expertise

  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Political, Moral, and Legal Philosophy
  • Corporate Criminal Law


Selected Publications

View All Publications


  • JD, Yale Law School
  • PhD in Philosophy, Goethe University Frankfurt
  • BA in Philosophy, Yale College

Prior Appointments

  • Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School
  • Visiting Professor, Stanford Law School
  • Associate, Debevoise & Plimpton
  • Law Clerk, Hon. J. Harvie Wilkinson III, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • Law Clerk, Hon. Janice Rogers Brown, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
  • Law Clerk (summer), Hon. Aharon Barak, President (Chief Justice), Supreme Court of Israel
  • Senior Research Analyst, The President's Council on Bioethics

Back to Faculty