The field of psychology and law involves the application of scientific and professional aspects of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. It is important to realize that there are a number of specialties that psychologists may pursue within the larger area of psychology and law. This field encompasses contributions made in a number of different areas--research, clinical practice, public policy, and teaching/training among them--from a variety of orientations within the field of psychology, such as developmental, social, cognitive, industrial-organizational, and clinical. (Statement taken from AP-LS web site)





C.        JOINT DEGREES PSYCHOLOGY  (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) AND LAW (J.D. or M.L.S.)




A.         Job Duties: Conducting forensic assessment and treatment relevant to legal decision-making: Evaluate defendants in relation to their competency to stand trial, ability to form criminal intent, and their ability to adequately assist counsel in their own defense.                                                                 In relation to these tasks psychologist may be asked to testify at various court hearings/trials in regards to competency, ability to form criminal intent, ability to assist counsel, and psychological diagnoses (e.g., psychopathy, schizophrenia, and personality disorders). They may also be involved in teaching, training, or supervision in a department of psychology, a medical school, a hospital, an interdisciplinary institute, or a clinic. Such professionals may also be involved in conducting research and scholarship in areas such as violence risk assessment, treatment needs and

             response, and decision-making strategies.


B.         Job Setting: Prisons, Jails & Correctional institutions, Department of Corrections, Law enforcement agencies, Courtroom, Private Practice, Mental Health Agencies, Hospitals, University.


C.         Clients: Defense Attorneys, Defendants, Prosecutors, Judges, Individuals going through custody hearings, Law enforcement officers


D.         Education:

1.          Doctoral Degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology and licensure as a psychologist is typically considered necessary for independent practice of clinical-forensic psychology. This typically involves 4 years (don’t count on it more like 5-6 years) of graduate study, followed by a 1 year internship.


2.          Masters (M.A. or M.S.) degree in clinical psychology typically enables a person to obtain employment in institutions, where they work under the supervision of a Ph.D. or Psy.D. psychologist.

3.          Few Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs offer specialty training in clinical-forensic psychology. Indeed, most clinical-forensic psychologists are graduates of general clinical psychology programs who developed their speciality later in their training, either on internship, by way of completing a forensic fellowship, or by independent and continuing education study. Students interested in becoming clinical-forensic psychologists should consider a clinical Ph.D. or Psy.D. program which offers a forensic specialization (see graduate programs listed below) or enter a clinical doctoral program which houses a faculty member whose research and clinical interests are in the clinical-forensic area.




A.         Employment Duties: Primary activities involve teach and conduct research. These Psychologists apply basic research finding and psychological theorizing/concepts to complex legal questions. This would include applying psychological concepts from basic research in the areas of cognition (e.g., memory, emotion, motivation, expectancies, schemas, and comprehension), social psychology (e.g., aggression, group processes, obedience, conformity, and compliance), learning (e.g., motivation and expectancies), biological/physiological psychology (e.g., physiology of deception and false memories) and developmental psychology (e.g., children as eyewitnesses, development of memory).  See subspecialties below for specifics in each area. Not only has this work helped to refine psychological theory, it has also opened the historically closed doors of the courthouse and the state house to scientific scrutiny.


B.         Subspecialties under the Behavioral Scientist Route of Psychology & Law:

 1.         Social psychologists:  They are likely to work in academic positions, such as psychology departments, medical schools, schools of criminal justice, or research and policy institutes. Frequently such individuals are very active in research, graduate training, and undergraduate teaching. They may also be involved in consulting with attorneys, courts, and agencies on issues relevant to their research in legal areas; examples include witness credibility, jury selection, and decision-making influences. Some non-university-based social psychologists work as consultants on a full-time basis, providing services to trial attorneys, while others may be employed by state or federal agencies (e.g. corrections, mental health) to conduct relevant research.


2.          Cognitive psychologists: Cognitive psychology focuses on how humans think, reason, and remember. Cognitive psychologists are interested in understanding the influences on thoughts and thought processes. They are trained primarily as researchers and teachers in the areas of human perception, memory, and judgment and decision making and tend to focus their research and consultation on such legally-relevant questions as eyewitness identification, the accuracy of memory, and the detection of deception.

a.          Their employment settings are typically university-based. Their research can be extremely important when courts must weigh testimony about events that may have occurred months or even years ago. Providing the results of such research to courts and legislators by summarizing the "state of science" on a given question is a task of some cognitive psychologists.

3.          Activities of Cognitive & Social Psychologists:

a.          One setting—the courtroom--has captured the attention of both social and cognitive psychologists because it provides a rich laboratory for psychological inquiry. In addition to questions related to jury decision making, a myriad of other issues related to the adversary system can be addressed by careful psychological research: judges' decision making capacities and the determinants of their sentences; criminal defendants' willingness to accept plea bargains, civil litigants' attempts at negotiation and settlement; the effectiveness of alternatives to trial (e.g., mediation, arbitration); litigants' beliefs about the justness and correctness of the legal proceedings; individuals' propensity to sue; and the specter of litigation affecting professional and personal relationships.


b.          Although psychologists' interest in the veracity of testimony can be traced back to early in the 20th century, much recent work has concerned the memory capabilities of victims and witnesses to crimes and accidents. Research on these questions has its foundation in basic theorizing about human perception and memory, and psychologists who work on these issues typically have a firm grounding in those theoretical realms. Recent studies have focused on factors that influence the reliability of human memories for complex, fast-moving, and fear-arousing incidents. A related topic that has generated both a great deal of interest and considerable contentiousness is the reliability of repressed memories. Cognitive psychologists occasionally testify about the results of these studies as expert witnesses in trials that involve eyewitness testimony or repressed memories. The contentiousness often concerns the extent to which research findings can be applied to real-world situations.


c.          A number of other issues have captured the attention of social psychologists who apply their knowledge of psychology to the law. Among these topics are regulatory compliance, discrimination, race and ethnicity, and sexual harassment and sexual assault. Other topics of interest to cognitive psychologists include investigative interviewing, psycholinguistic analysis of judicial language, and probabilistic reasoning and decision making about complex scientific and statistical information. Data on these topics and similar others are generated by scientific methodologies and are then disseminated to the legal community by way of advocacy, expert testimony, description in appellate briefs, or via publication or presentation to legal audiences.


d.          One legal topic that has interested both social and cognitive psychologists is jury decision making. This institution can be analyzed by a social psychologist as a collection of individuals who must listen to, persuade, discuss, and perhaps compromise with each other. That same institution can be examined by a cognitive psychologist as a medium for understanding both individual and group memory processes, decision making abilities, and problem solving skills.


4.          Developmental psychologists:  They tend to be based in academic, medical, and professional school settings. They often become involved in legally relevant research and consultation with children and adolescents. There are important questions regarding the testimony of children (accuracy and influences, for example), the knowledge and decision-making of adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system, and the needs of children and families involved in divorce or separation that are among the areas addressed by the research and consultation of developmental psychologists. In addition, such psychologists may become active in attempting to develop policy regarding children and families in the forms of federal and state legislation, or the implementation of such law on the community level.


Activities of Developmental Psychologists:

a.          The range of activities in developmental psychology and law is broad. Traditional areas of inquiry have involved the welfare of children (e.g., in child custody, delinquency, and maltreatment cases). Rather than assess and treat individual children, however, developmental psychologists may formulate and test theories about the effects of divorce and joint custody on children, the effects of restrictive environments on adolescent development, or long-term effects of physical, sexual, or emotional child abuse on adult functioning.


b.          An important issue in both children's law and elder law is competence. Trial judges, appellate courts, legislators and policy writers make assumptions about the competence of children, adolescents and older individuals, that are amenable to scrutiny by scientific research. For example, a thorny question in many cases involving children and adolescents is the degree to which they should be permitted to make binding decisions on matters involving their own welfare (e.g., to seek guidance counseling, to seek an abortion, to refuse or accept medical treatment, to state which parent they prefer for custody, to choose not to attend school) and the psychological capabilities required for these decisions. A question of concern in criminal cases involving juvenile offenders is the extent to which they understand the legal proceedings, the Constitutional protections to which they are entitled, and the implications of various resolutions of their cases. A difficult issue in many cases involving elderly individuals is the extent to which they are capable of conducting their own financial and personal affairs and whether a guardian should be appointed to assume these duties. The notions of consent and related capacities--the issues at the heart of all of these examples--have long been of interest to developmental psychologists and a great deal of research now exists on these topics.  One of these topic is the formation of criminal intent and adjudication of juveniles as adults (immature juvenile brain).


c.          Another area of intense interest to developmental psychologists involves children in court--either as witnesses or victims of crime. Here, two concerns typically surface. The first is the child's right not to be traumatized or abused by the legal system. A significant barrier to prosecuting defendants in child sexual abuse cases is posed by the concern about causing the child further distress. Some states now allow a child's testimony to be videotaped for later display in the courtroom. Recent research has been undertaken to understand the effects on children of testifying. A second concern focuses on the accuracy of children as witnesses in court. Can children distinguish fact from fantasy? At what age do children understand what it means to tell the truth? Do children make things up? Despite a number of widely publicized cases involving false accusations, a number of studies suggest that children only rarely make up detailed memories of completely non-existent events. On the other hand, children can be highly suggestible, especially in response to leading or repetitive questioning. A long history of research on memory development, suggestibility, semantics, and social demand characteristics is relevant to this issue.

d.          Many developmental psychologists have been interested in studying the juvenile justice system and, in particular, some of the nontraditional methods for dealing with delinquent adolescents. These diversion programs are intended to provide necessary services to juvenile offenders while attempting to divert them from formal entry into the criminal justice system. Developmental psychologists who have assessed these programs have concluded that although there are notable exceptions, the programs have generally not succeeded in creating meaningful alternatives to formal court proceedings. Most states have revised and tightened their juvenile codes in the recent past.


5.          Physiological/Biological Psychology: They are trained primarily as researchers and teachers in the areas of physiological psychology.  They are interested in areas of  perception, memory, emotion, and motivation.  One major area of research is in the physiological components of deception.  They are devising new techniques used in lie detection.  One of these techniques uses ERPs (event related potentials (see summary of APS conferences for details).  PET scans are being used to differentiate false memories from veridical or true memories.


C.         Employment Setting: Primary setting would be academic for all of the subspecialties.  They are usually employed by colleges and universities. Less frequently, they are employed by governmental agencies, private foundations, or non-profit organizations doing some combination of advocacy and policy formulation and analysis. Still other social and cognitive psychologists may be involved with the law as independent consultants. For example, some individuals who offer trial consulting services have been trained in traditional programs in social or cognitive psychology. Any of these psychologists may be asked on occasion to offer expert opinions in court on issues related to social behaviors or thought processes.


D.         Education: Ph.D. or Ph.D. & J.D. combination in various areas of psychology (e.g., neural science, social psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology). 



A.         Some psychologists receive more extensive training in law and obtain a J.D. (Juris Doctor) or M.L.S. (Master of Legal Studies) in addition to their training in psychology. Such individuals may become involved in legal scholarship in areas of law relevant to the behavioral sciences, and may work in law schools as well as in other academic or applied settings described above. In addition to law teaching and scholarship, such individuals may become involved in psychological research or practice (depending on their specialization within psychology), or legal practice as an attorney.



A.        Salaries for psychologists can vary according to the setting and nature of the work.

1.         Academic Settings: The salary for a beginning assistant professor might initially be in the $35,000 - $40,000 range. Salaries in medical school settings are typically somewhat higher, as they are established in comparison with medical professionals. However, medical school positions are very often limited in terms of the "hard money" they pay, meaning that an individual joining a Department of Psychiatry as an assistant professor might be expected to "earn" between 50-100% of his or her salary by obtaining grants, contracts, or through clinical services income. Even in university and other interdisciplinary settings, however, there is growing pressure on psychologists to generate sources of salary support to repay the department or school. 


2.         Applied Settings: Salaries may also vary in applied settings.

a.         Correctional settings: Psychologists will find striking differences between different systems. Beginning salaries in the Federal Prison System may be more than $40,000. Salaries are likely to be lower in a state Correctional Facility or Local Jail, although there can be a wide range of salary levels. There may also be discrepancies according to the level of training; some correctional facilities will seek to hire masters-level psychologists at salaries that may begin between $20,000 - $25,000 rather than doctoral-level psychologists, to whom they might be expected to pay about $10,000 more.

b.         Hospitals and community agencies: There is variability as well in starting salaries in these settings.  Currently, a starting salary for a doctoral-level psychologist will be between $35,000 and $40,000 in most settings. Occasionally it may be less, particularly in more rural settings, and salaries may be greater in some states and urban settings.


3.         Part-time practice or consulting: Psychologists also have the advantage of being able to establish a business in addition to working with an organization. Some organizations have rules governing this, so it is important to know whether this is permissible. Part-time private practice does allow a psychologist to earn income at an hourly rate consistent with that charged by others in the field and geographic area. Such rates may vary a good deal (e.g., between $75/hour and $250/hour). Obtaining work at private rates is typically dependenton the psychologists' reputation, as well as the amount of private forensic work that is available in a given area


B.        Some psychologists should expect to see their salaries increase at a rate roughly consistent with inflation (i.e. 2%-3% a year), although this may not occur in organizations experiencing financial difficulties. Generally a good rule of thumb is to determine the cost of living adjustments paid to staff of a particular organization during the last five years, in assessing the prospects for the next five.

Clinical PhD/PsyD Programs


University of Alabama (clinical Ph.D. with a psychology-law concentration).


University of Arizona (Ph.D. and/or J.D).


Alliant International University (Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology or Psy.D. in Forensic Psychology).


Fordham University  (Clinical PhD with concentration in Forensic Psychology)


MCP Hahnemann University/Villanova Law School University (J.D./Ph.D.).


University of Nebraska (joint J.D. and Ph.D. or joint J.D. and M.A. in Psychology).


Nova Southeastern University (Psy.D. with a concentration in Clinical Forensic Psychology).


Sam Houston State University (Ph.D. in Forensic-Clinical Psychology).


Simon Fraser University (Ph.D. in Clinical-Forensic Psychology).


Non-Clinical PhD Programs


University of Arizona (Ph.D. and/or J.D).


Alliant International University (Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology or Psy.D. in Forensic Psychology).


City University of New York (M.A. or Ph.D.).


Florida International University (Ph.D. in Psychology with an emphasis in Legal Psychology).


University of Illinois at Chicago (Ph.D. with concentration in Psychology and Law).


University of Minnesota (Ph.D. in social psychology with a research concentration in social psychology and law).


University of Nebraska (joint J.D. and Ph.D. or joint J.D. and M.A. in Psychology).


Pacific Graduate School of Psychology (joint Ph.D./J.D.).


Simon Fraser University (Ph.D. in psychology in the psychology and law program).


Masters Programs


Castleton State College (Masters in Forensic Psychology).


The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (M.A. in Forensic Psychology).


City University of New York (M.A. or Ph.D.).


University of Denver (M.A. in Forensic Psychology).


Marrymount University (M.A. in Forensic Psychology).


University of Nebraska (joint J.D. and Ph.D. or joint J.D. and M.A. in Psychology).


The Sage Colleges ( M.A. in Forensic Psychology).


Tiffin University, (M.A. in Criminal Justice in Forensic Psychology).  For further information contact Dr. Elizabeth Athaide-Victor or Dr. Steven Hurwitz.