25 January 2006
This Spring, Harvard will be the site of something that has never been attempted before . . . I think. Matthew Stephenson of the Harvard Law School, Don Rubin of the Harvard Department of Statistics, and I will teach a seminar entitled Quantitative Social Science, Law, Expert Witnesses, and Litigation. The course will be offered jointly in the Law School and the Statistics Department and will, we hope, include students from the both places as well as other Departments in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (Government, Sociology, Economics, etc.).
In the course, the quantitatively trained students will act as expert witnesses by analyzing datasets relating to a given fact scenario. The experts will draft expert reports and testify at depositions, which will be taken by the law students acting as (what else?) lawyers. The lawyers will then use the transcripts and expert reports to draft cross motions for summary judgment and responses to those motions. By the way: A very big thanks to New England Court Reporting Institute for agreeing to provide court reporters free of charge to assist the course!
Our hope is that by forcing law students and quantitatively trained students to communicate effectively under the pressure-cooker conditions of pre-trial litigation, we can teach them something about the critical process of communicating with one another generally. In my view, this communication process is underemphasized in both law schools and quantitative departments around the nation. For example, how often does the average law student have to communicate with a person with greater knowledge of another field (anything from construction to exporting fruit)? How often are students trained in quantitative fields required to explain methods and conclusions to those not so trained?
When I began putting together this course a year ago, I searched for analogs in academic websites around the country but found none. My question: are there other for-credit classes like this one out there? By "like this one" I mean courses in which quantitative and law students are in the same classroom, forced to work with each other effectively?
Either way, I'll be sharing some of the lessons learned from this effort throughout the upcoming semester.