It's been fun guest blogging this week, but this is likely my last post. I'm going to wade into the ongoing discussion here and elsewhere on what kinds of statistical and social science background law students should get (or be offered) and lawyers need. The easy answer to those questions, not likely to be controversial here, is more than they get! Perhaps most useful to the students are those classes that focus on the types of numeracy and related skills that lawyers need when dealing with expert witnesses.
But I don't think that teaching about such matters should be restricted to such classes or to classes covering, for example, empirical studies of judicial decisionmaking. In my employment law class, for example, I cover the law governing the use of polygraph tests and other kinds of screening tests by employers. While I'm at it, however, I walk the students through a (very simple) set of exercises aimed at helping them understand the statistics of screening tests. What does it mean to say that a test is 90% accurate, or that it has a specificity of 95% but a sensitivity of only 70%? Why might you want to know something about the prevalence or expected prevalence of whatever it is you are screening for? How do you interpret a "positive" result? Invariably, most of my students find this discussion extremely intimidating and even panic-inducing. ("I didn't realize we'd have to do math in this class!" or "Is this going to be on the final?" are the two most common responses.) Yet an employment lawyer advising a client on whether or not it is worth the legal hassles or potential hassles associated with using and relying on different types of screening tests simply cannot give competent advice without knowing how to think about these questions -- or at least without knowing that those questions exist and need to be answered.
I'm sure most readers of this blog wouldn't disagree and are likely to find ways to include numeracy if they teach doctrinal classes. I'm also sure many of our colleagues who do not consider themselves ELS devotees do so as well. It would be interesting to know how much this happens or, to the extent it doesn't, do law professors feel that more would be helpful but may not themselves feel competent in presenting the information. I believe that statistical and social science information closely related to the doctrinal subjects already taught may be the easiest to "sell" to faculty and students alike -- certainly easier sells than, say, empirical studies of judicial decisionmaking or general statistics classes that are not directly tied to application in they study of doctrine or the practice of law.