Creative Career Options: Legal Psychology

Caterina MariaHow many psychology majors end up in law school? A lot!

Today, we’re excited to welcome Caterina Maria to the site to talk about an interesting emerging area of legal practice — legal psychology. Maybe you can put that undergraduate degree to good use, after all!

Without further ado, here’s Caterina.

Law Psychology: Where Science Meets Law
Most lawyers enter law school with the intentions of pursuing a specifically chosen field. From civil law to corporate law the opportunities are many, but students who are scientifically-inclined may go for the lesser known field of legal psychology. This growing field melds empirical based scientific evidence with the principles of law and is becoming popular today.

Areas of Legal Psychology

Legal psychology addresses issues in the legal system using basic and advanced social and cognitive principles that are at the core of human psychology. Eye witness testimony, evidence analysis, jury decision making, investigations and the interviewing process are all affected by legal psychology. Contributions to the legal psychology field often come from research, clinical practice, public policy and teaching or training from a variety of areas of psychology: developmental, industrial-organizational and clinical.

The field has emerged after the need to differentiate between legal psychology and forensic psychology was discovered. The use of science in the legal process goes far beyond traditional forensic psychology — what most people think of when they watch shows like CSI and Law and Order. A thorough understanding of the law is required for this niche field of psychology and law.

Science enters the field of law in several capacities. Scientific technology and patent law go hand in hand often and science is most often used for criminal law during forensic investigations. Even a family law attorney could use legal psychology during custody battles. In each of these cases science is used to help address a legal concern, providing a conclusive solution based on empirical evidence.

Legal psychology is less about science of profiling a criminal and more about the specific application of science in law today. A student of legal psychology may use science to jump-start a career in trial consulting or create more advisory roles. Often careers in this field include professional positions in academia, government roles, public interest non-governmental organizations and think tanks.

What Education is Needed to be a Legal Psychologist?

Courses students of legal psychology take include topics such as memory and the law, a dissection of eye witness accounts and how memory affects law in ways above and beyond the reliability of eye witness testimony. Traditional courses such as research methods in psychology are also studied. Social science and the law, psychological aspects of the death penalty and risk and rational decision making also fall into the realm of legal psychology studies.

Many schools across the U.S. have law and psychology focuses available for law students. Stanford Law School and Cornell, for example, have a rich tradition of collaboration between their psychology and law departments. With their strong neuroscience research facilities it helps bring together biologists, psychologists, social scientists and policymaker-lawyers to help expand our understanding of the brain.

Litigators and negotiators make important decisions based on the observation and accounts of human decision-making every day. Attorneys use the principles of psychology in jury selection and during witness testimony in regular practice. Science and the law is all around us and this emerging field is one to take a close look at as we become a more scientifically-based community.

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Thanks, Caterina! Very interesting area of the law, for sure.

Caterina is a writer pursuing a Master of Arts in Psychological Research. Growing up in a family who was involved in the justice system inspired her intense curiosity about law and drives her consistent research on the connection between psychology and law and what drives criminal minds.

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