President's Column

Conferences, Committees, and the Big Picture

Recent Accomplishments, highlight a current challenge, and suggest a course for addressing that challenge.

By Jennifer Skeem, PhD

We are reaching the mid-point of the year (already)! School years are ending and summer vacations are in sight. As my term as AP-LS President comes to a close, I would like to share recent accomplishments, highlight a current challenge and suggest a course for addressing that challenge.


This has been a banner year for AP-LS, by both customary and new yardsticks. For example:

  • Beth Caillouet and Allison Redlich co-chaired a spectacular AP-LS Annual Conference in New Orleans, with 949 attendees. Keynotes and committee driven activities were inspiring. We are grateful to Chris Slobogin and the Legal Scholars committee for convening two thought-provoking panels that initiated an effort to bring law back to our organization.
  • Preeti Chauhan and Amanda Zelechoski have assembled a terrific Div. 41 Program for the APA Convention in Washington, D.C., this August. This year's program will be distinguished by a wealth of keynote speakers and by interdivisional panels on (a) disproportionate minority contact with the justice system, and (b) juveniles at high risk for repeated offending. Don't miss it!
  • Margaret Bull Kovera and Michael Lamb have been editing spectacular volumes of our journals, Law and Human Behavior (now indexed in WestLaw) and Psychology, Public Policy, and Law (now showcasing understudied topics).
  • Although most of our committees' activities focused on the AP-LS conference (hosted panels, speakers, and socials), there were remarkable exceptions. For example, our Student Section has begun to offer a series of webinars. Moreover, Antoinette Cavanaugh, Jennifer Hunt, and Diane Sivasubramaniam and other members of the Minority Affairs Committee have released a series of YouTube videos that beautifully showcase the entire organization.
  • You – our members – turned out in record numbers at our AP-LS Business Meeting and graciously volunteered to serve on AP-LS committees. We are appointing nearly 50 new volunteers to serve on one of our 25 or so committees. It is gratifying to make headway on the goal to broaden the AP-LS governance community.
Major Challenge

Given its trajectory, it seems likely that AP-LS will continue to thrive as a specialty organization (especially in the forensic practice arena). But our organization risks growing increasingly insular, unless some of our initiatives are directed outward. By investing in contributions that extend beyond the bounds of AP-LS we can grow in ways that increase our relevance to the larger fields of psychological science, law, and public policy. This was the subject of my presidential address. Like a number of past presidents, I am concerned about the narrowness of our field, which diminishes its scope of influence and impact.

One Way Forward

The time is right for our organization to extend its reach—and you can help. Thanks to Brian Cutler's Presidential Initiative, AP-LS has a strategic plan. The plan focuses on systematizing the governance structure of AP-LS and, importantly, it is organized around a few core principles. These are broad statements of AP-LS's goals and its mission “to enhance well-being, justice, and human rights through the science and practice of psychology in legal contexts.”

AP-LS's aspirations include taking a central role in advancing psychological science and serving as a major catalyst to translate exciting new knowledge into law, policy, and practice. Making progress toward these goals will require moving in opposition to insularity, narrowness, and overspecialization. You can help these goals take flight. The new breadth of the AP-LS governance community creates an opportunity for an inflection point in the organization's development. New people can energize committees to think bigger, more creatively, and more proactively with their initiatives and budget requests. We need motivated individuals to help translate our general goals into specific, actionable objectives. The strategic plan will gain traction only if dedicated people bring the terms that they care about to life.

Members of the Executive Committee (EC) also play a key role in this endeavor. The EC functions as gatekeeper for initiatives and, frankly, tends to be bound by tradition. For the strategic plan to succeed, the EC needs to develop a more enthusiastic mindset about ambitious initiatives. Like other organizations, we can maintain sufficient reserves while investing meaningful resources in priority initiatives that place AP-LS at the forefront of psychological science, law and policy.

To make this less abstract, I provide one example of how a committee initiative (provided EC support) could nudge AP-LS toward a healthy trajectory of growth. The Research Committee could undertake an initiative that involves issuing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for member-initiated research planning activities that support APLS's strategic plan. The Research Committee would make annual grants to support activities (e.g., working meetings; pilot projects) that advance interdisciplinary science on understudied topics in psychology and law.

This is an approach that other organizations have successfully used to advance their science.

It seems that the best way for AP-LS to broaden the discipline and amplify its impact is by providing real incentives for smart, creative, hardworking members to actualize its strategic plan. I hope you become part of this effort. It is time to move beyond repeated presidential calls to broaden the discipline, and instead to take action to enact this vision. I hope that we, as individuals, and as a society, will take real steps to move forward in positive ways. I hope you have a wonderful summer and look forward to seeing some of you at APA.