Feature article

President's column, American Psychology-Law Society

Presidential initiatives presented by David DeMatteo.

By David S. DeMatteo, JD, PhD

It’s a great pleasure for me to serve as president of the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS). Serving the organization in this capacity is a tremendous personal and professional privilege, and I was fortunate to follow in the footsteps of Past President Jen Woolard, who was an outstanding leader and role model. I’m also appreciative of the many other former AP-LS presidents who have offered their thoughts and guidance.

AP-LS is a vibrant and growing organization with more than 3,200 active members — students and professionals; researchers, scholars, and practitioners — who share an interest in the intersection of psychology and law. We are fortunate to have an outstanding administrative officer (Kathy Gaskey), a dedicated executive committee and many hard-working committees who seek to advance the science of psychology-law and the translation of psychology-law knowledge into practice and policy. The collective efforts of our leadership and members contribute to the core mission of AP-LS, which is to enhance well-being, justice and human rights through the science and practice of psychology in legal contexts.

Building upon the impressive work of our two immediate past presidents — Jen Woolard’s focus on engaging in issues of social justice; and Patty Zapf’s focus on enhancing the dissemination of information about AP-LS and our field — my presidential initiative is focused on increasing the “L” in AP-LS. As an interdisciplinary organization, it is imperative that we pay attention to both the “P” and “L” in our division. Although we are in great shape as a division in terms of the number of mental health professionals and students who are actively engaged in AP-LS, we have a good deal of work to do to attract more law students, legal practitioners and legal scholars. As such, there are four components to my presidential initiative to increase the “L” in AP-LS.

First, I would like to see an increase in the presence, contribution and influence of law students, legal scholars and legal practitioners in AP-LS. Without a fair and balanced representation of legally trained students and professionals, our division is at risk of losing its interdisciplinary focus. Along these lines, the legal scholars committee, under the guidance of Chris Slobogin, has done an outstanding job of promoting the recruitment and retention of legal scholars in AP-LS. We also plan to attract legal professionals and law students by including more law-based presentations at our annual conference and offering continuing legal education credits for some presentations.

Second, I plan to promote the research being conducted by our members to legislators, policymakers, and administrators. A quick glance at previous AP-LS Conference programs reveals that many of our members are conducting high-quality research that has important implications for policy and practice. As Past President Jen Woolard would attest, AP-LS is in a position to engage in issues of social justice externally in the realms of policy, advocacy, and practice. It is therefore imperative that we promote our research to individuals who are in positions to effectuate change. After all, one litmus test of good research is that it influences policy and practice.

Third, I plan to keep AP-LS members informed about legal developments that are relevant to our membership, which is in line with former president Patty Zapf’s communication initiative, the outstanding work being done by former president Margaret Bull Kovera in her stewardship of Law and Human Behavior and AP-LS webmaster Kento Yasuhara. Keeping our membership informed about recent developments in the law that are relevant to our collective research, practice and scholarly interests is a high priority — and one that I hope will pay dividends in the form of increased activity and participation by our members.

Fourth, I would like AP-LS to continue to encourage a research focus on topics that require combined psychology-law expertise and that have implications for policy and practice. AP-LS has an active grants program that provides financial support for students and professionals who conduct psychology-law research, and I will encourage an expansion of these efforts. It will take the collective efforts of many people to accomplish these four objectives. The support of the AP-LS executive committee and the hard work of the many AP-LS committees will be instrumental, but we need more help. So I welcome input from all AP-LS members, and I encourage you to contact me if you have ideas for accomplishing these goals or if you would like to get involved in any way.

Finally, let me extend an invitation to attend the next AP-LS Conference, which is being held in Seattle, Washington, March 16-18, 2017. The conference co-chairs, Kathleen Kemp and Derek Hess, are hard at work in putting together an outstanding program. Attending the annual conference provides a great opportunity to hear about the most recent psychology-law research, present your own research and otherwise contribute to furthering the dialogue about important mental health and legal issues that affect policy and practice. I look forward to seeing you there.