Engineering News

Professor Shari Diamond Discusses Engineering and Law Collaborations

Diamond gave the talk, “What the Legal System Can Offer Scientists and Engineers,” as part of the Whole-Brain Leadership for PhD Students Seminar Series

Shari Diamond, Howard J. Trienens Professor of Law at the Pritzker School of Law and professor of psychology at Northwestern University, discussed the intersections between law and engineering on May 1.

Shari Diamond, Howard J. Trienens Professor of Law at the Pritzker School of Law and professor of psychology at Northwestern University, discussed the intersections between law and engineering as part of the Whole-Brain Leadership for PhD Students Seminar Series at Northwestern Engineering on May 1.

Her lunchtime talk, “What the Legal System Can Offer Scientists and Engineers,” held in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, addressed the challenges and benefits for science and engineering experts to interact with the legal system.

“If you look at modern (legal) cases, they increasingly call for science and technology expertise,” Diamond said. “Science and engineering on one hand, and law on the other, are not always speaking the same language, so it’s a bit of a challenge. But the legal system does recognize that it is dependent on all of these forms of expert advice.”

Diamond shared findings from her research exploring how scientists and engineers decide whether or not to participate as experts in legal hearings. Alongside Richard O. Lempert of the University of Michigan Law School, she surveyed members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for the paper, “When Law Calls, Does Science Answer? A Survey of Distinguished Scientists & Engineers,” published in the Fall 2018 edition of the journal Daedalus.

STEM experts tended not to participate in legal proceedings due to time constraints, in addition to skepticism about the legal system or requests that didn’t align with their expertise, the study found.

“There’s a mismatch going on when people are being approached for their expertise, and that’s something that should be worked on in order to be able to come up with pairings that give the legal system the kind of expertise it truly needs,” Diamond said.

Diamond advocated for STEM scholars to venture out of their discipline to share their expertise, which could enhance their reputation as experts as well as offer opportunities to expand their thinking.
“It’s very easy when you are in law school or you are in a PhD program to be kind of siloed in your perspective,” Diamond said. “Getting out of that will make your own work better and will give you a fuller perspective.”

Diamond pointed out ways in which Northwestern is breaking interdisciplinary silos between law and engineering, including the Master of Science in Law program for STEM professionals and the JD/PhD program where students earn both doctorate and law degrees in as few as six years. The Fall 2019 JD/PhD incoming class includes three students pursuing engineering PhDs in materials science engineering, computer science, and biomedical engineering.

Recently, undergraduate computer science students collaborated with law students through the course Innovation Lab: Building Technologies for the Law, which focused on collaborative efforts to use technology to improve legal services.

Diamond’s talk is part of the PhD Seminar Series, which invites scholars from outside the McCormick School of Engineering to introduce students to various disciplines, including history, philosophy, art, theatre, economics, and law. The final speaker will be Todd Rosenthal, professor of theatre in the School of Communication, on May 22.