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Cornell University is the latest of a handful of law schools to launch a new J.D./Ph.D. program that combines studies in law, psychology and human development. Cornell’s program, which starts in fall 2007, will use scientific studies, or empirical research, aimed at training law students to present more effectively evidence to jurors and empathize with clients. Students must commit to a minimum of five years to finish the program. They will choose to begin the program with either a core year in psychology or law, and then will alternate years between the fields. The first to offer a similar program was University of Nebraska in the early 1980s. Other schools to offer programs include Northwestern University, New York University, Villanova University and the University of Arizona. About 90% of criminal cases based solely on eyewitness identification end in false convictions because of poor witness memory or perception, said Charles Brainerd, a professor of sociology at Cornell University who is coordinating the new program. Because programs that incorporate law and psychology train students to be both lawyers and scientists, students learn to conduct experiments to determine which techniques will best stimulate witness memory, Brainerd said. When this research is completed and published, practicing lawyers can use the scientific data to work with their witnesses, resulting in a greater likelihood of more accurate identifications. Studying scientific research on the legal system will also prepare lawyers to think differently about their jobs, said Robert Nelson, a professor of sociology and law at Northwestern University and the director of the American Bar Foundation, a nonprofit national research institute committed to objective empirical research on law and legal institutions. “They will have an understanding of how laypeople think about the law and be educated on how those perceptions are formed,” said Nelson. “Lawyers need to understand what their clients are going through and how they will perceive the legal process.” Research conducted on juries has been helpful to Scott Hudson, a 2006 graduate of Cornell Law School who now works as a prosecutor for the 18th judicial district of Colorado. Hudson took a course during law school based on reading scientific studies on jury behavior. “We learned the best ways to present things to a jury in a way that they will understand,” he said. “If I am working on a multicar accident case with a lot of facts, I know all the ins and outs because I have read the facts 100 times. But I need to know how to explain that to a jury in two days in the best way.” Through the studies, Hudson knows scientifically whether presenting the information through graphs or in chronological order will work better. “Most lawyers decide based on gut feel, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Hudson said. “But if you base it on empirical work, you go in with a certain level of confidence-not that you will necessarily win-but knowing that you did it the best way you could.”

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