Many of the nation’s top scientific minds will once again spend part of their summer at William Mitchell learning how to communicate more clearly: Mitchell’s one-of-a-kind expert witness training program has received funding for at least two more years from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
In approving the grant for the Expert Witness Training Academy, NSF reviewers offered high praise for the program and its creators, Mitchell colleagues Linda Thorstad, professors John Sonsteng, Jim Hilbert, and Eileen Scallen.
“This program is well crafted, well tested, and highly effective in training scientists to function as valuable resources in the courtroom as well as in the court of public opinion,” wrote one reviewer. “The hands-on approach is extremely powerful.”
This year’s week-long training academy, Aug. 4-9, will host 24 climate scientists, but plans are in the works to expand the program to include such topics as fracking and public health. “We’re looking to expand to other major public policy areas,” says Hilbert. “There are so many important fields where scientific testimony will play an integral role.”
This will be the third year the academy is in session. The Mitchell team designed an exercise that involves a meteorological event and a subsequent lawsuit. The scientists then participate in a legislative hearing, depositions, non-binding arbitration, and a jury trial.
“They not only learn about being good expert witnesses, they learn from the perspective of the lawyer,” says Sonsteng. “That gives them another level of understanding the case.”
The role of Mitchell law students will also expand in future programs. This summer some Mitchell students will serve as research assistants and professor interns.
“The whole program is a real team effort—professors, students, administrative staff, facilities folks,” says Sonsteng. “It’s a great way for Mitchell to be active in the community and engage some of the scientific world’s most prominent minds.”