Forensic Psychology Career Spotlight

A few years back, I was part of the American Psychology-Law Society’s Careers and Training Committee, which put together a career handbook for prospective students in forensic psychology (psychology and law). Part of this manual contained a series of biographies from various professionals in forensic psychology to give students an idea of what it is like to work in this field as well as the wide variety of opportunities that the field holds. Short, personal statements were solicited from successful doctoral-level psychologists whose work related to psychology and law (forensic psychology issues).

Biographers were asked to describe how they choose their career path, how they ended up in their current position, and what advice they would give to aspiring students. The intent was to give interested students a glimpse of career options and the steps some people took to get there.

To ensure a wide variety of professionals, biographies were solicited from 10 different categories:

  1. Forensic/Clinical
  2. Policy-Relevant
  3. Trial Consulting
  4. Non- Academic Research
  5. Academic—Liberal Arts/Undergraduate Professor
  6. Academic—Graduate, Community Psychology Professor
  7. Academic—Graduate, Social Psychology Professor
  8. Academic—Graduate, Cognitive Psychology Professor
  9. Academic—Graduate, Developmental Psychology Professor
  10. Academic—Law School Professor

These biographies serve as an interesting collection of careers that are possible within the field of forensic psychology. I can’t help but think as I re-read through my own, and my colleagues’, biographies what a wide variety of options there are within this field and how my love for the field has not yet waned. For anyone who is considering a career in forensic psychology, these biographies are a great read. Enjoy!

Trial Consulting Psychologist – Trial Consultant

Dr. Dan Wolfe, Senior Trial Consultant, TrialGraphix

As a trial consultant, I’ve always had a passion for my profession. I’ve brought that passion to many of the famous trials I’ve worked on—the OJ Simpson, Rodney King, John DuPont cases, to name a few—but perhaps the highlight of my career was a trial in which I helped an innocent man on death row go free.

The case was the infamous Rolando Cruz trial. Mr. Cruz had been wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a young girl. He spent 12 years on death row before the police admitted that they had coerced a confession out of him. The case garnered a lot of media attention. I had the privilege of working pro bono alongside some excellent lawyers on the case, one of whom is now a Federal District Judge, the other a professor at Northwestern.

The great personal satisfaction the others and I derived from seeing this man finally set free is beyond measure. When you do something from the heart rather than the pocketbook, you are truly blessed. What I really mean by that is that to survive as a trial consultant, you must have a real passion that goes beyond just “liking it.” If you don’t, you won’t survive.

Raised in a small farming community in Colorado, I was taught to believe in the principle of helping (not only materialistically, but spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically) those less fortunate. My mom and dad instilled the idea that being compassionate and conscientious toward others wasn’t just an afterthought, it was a way of life. It’s a life theme that drew me to my chosen profession, and one that has served me very well through the years.

How did I choose this career? As a psychology/sociology undergraduate student, I was involved in a senior research project looking at juror decision making in rape trials. The experience profoundly moved me. The many—and often emotionally powerful—ways that jurors view rape stirred my feelings. What struck me most about the senior research project was the valuable insight I was able to garner from the interface of law and psychology. I got to see firsthand the applied and practical implications of all those years of academics and reading about it in the classroom. It was amazing to me that there were real-world applications.

As a result of my interest in this subject, my supervisor encouraged me to look into law and psychology programs, which I did. Once accepted, I was fortunate to become the project director of a large grant starting my third year of the program. I dedicated myself solely to the analysis and understanding of juror decision-making. It was a fascinating time for me, to say the least.

When I finished up the program, I applied to traditional law and academic jobs, as well as applied research jobs, which included litigation consulting and trial consulting. I was offered a job and have been working in the field ever since.

My good fortune—and hard work—in this wonderful profession has led me to appearances as a commentator on CBS, ABC, and talk shows such as “Talk Back Live,” and have been quoted in a wide range of media, including national publications such as Newsweek and USA Today. I have also authored many articles on the subjects of juries, juror perceptions, ethics in trial consulting, and the interrelation of attorney gender and courtroom bias. Prior to joining TrialGraphix, I spent several years researching juror decision-making in complex cases while at FTI Consulting and Litigation Sciences, Inc.

A trial consultant since 1990, I have been in the national spotlight on numerous occasions working in criminal and civil cases involving celebrities and professional athletes.

The best part of my job is that it is continually challenging, even after all these years. My advice to anyone interested in going into trial consulting is to get educated in the fields I’ve mentioned, seek out a mentor, explore the discipline through an internship, network with others in the field, attend conferences, and read as much as you can about the law and consulting.

And above all, have a passion.