Skip to main content

Program helps law students understand human behavior

October 02, 2008

A flexible new program at the Sandra O'Connor College of Law is helping students learn more about what makes criminals, jurors, judges, witnesses and lawyers tick.

The two-year Law and Psychology Specialization is part of the Law, Science, & Technology Certificate offered by the College's Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology. It was developed by Professor Linda Demaine, director of the Law and Psychology Graduate Program at Arizona State University, for law students who seek training at the intersection of law and behavioral science.

Students are able to choose among more than a dozen courses to enhance their knowledge of law and psychology, including Cults and Alternative Religions, Juvenile Law, Mental Health Law, Probability and Science in Court, and Neuroscience and Law. They also must take Empirical Research and Legal Process, Law and Psychology, Law and Psychology of the Trial Process, or Law, Litigation and Science.

The program dovetails with Dean Paul Schiff Berman's mission to build a new model of 21st century public legal education at the College of Law.

"We are increasingly emphasizing a wide variety of academic concentrations, so that students can have a greater role in designing their own curriculum," Berman said. "This concentration in law and psychology will help us draw strong students from around the country who are attracted by the extraordinary wealth of opportunities we provide in this important interdisciplinary area."

Demaine, an affiliated professor of psychology, said the specialization is intended to facilitate students' understanding of the law and to give them a competitive edge in the marketplace.

"Receiving training in the science of human behavior, including how to present your case to a jury, persuade a judge to rule a certain way, engage in effective negotiations, or distinguish between persuasion and coercion in different social contexts, is very important," she said.

"Within a broad spectrum, students may select psychology topics that interest them and are applicable to legal practice or other positions they may pursue. Aside from the law school's specific offerings in law and psychology, students can count any law school class toward the certificate as long as they can demonstrate there's a significant behavioral sciences component to the class," Demaine said. "It could be Constitutional Law, a criminal law course, or a torts seminar, for example, as long as there's a paper or other component that allows students to pursue a behavioral science topic within that seminar."

The certificate program already has grabbed the attention of some second- and third-year law students, such as Amanda Pyper, a 2L with undergraduate degrees in biology and psychology. Pyper, who came to ASU because of the reputation of the Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology, said law and psychology mesh well.

"Being interested in psychology goes along with being analytical, and that's what law students are," she said. "It's learning why we think the way we do."

Pyper, who is interested in jury research and court mediation, already is putting some of her knowledge to practice at her externship at the Federal Public Defender's Capital Habeas Unit in Phoenix. She has written a memo about the patient privilege of an individual with psychological issues.

Pyper isn't sure what type of law she will practice, but she believes the Law and Psychology Specialization can only help her career.

"Sure, all of it is just one more thing to add on my resume, but what's behind it is more important - to know that I understand the psychology of people is pretty relevant to being a lawyer," she said.

Further information about the certificate program and other law and psychology offerings at ASU is available at

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law