Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Careers in Psych

Psychology Graduates Make Excellent Consultants

A litigation consultant reveals how a psych degree translates to consulting jobs

Posted Jan 17, 2017

An undergraduate degree in psychology provides an individual with the tools necessary to work in a countless number of fields. If you intend to be a therapist you will need a graduate degree and a lot of supervised training. But there are other ways to use you knowledge and skill set outside the realm of counseling.

Eric Chan/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Eric Chan/Wikimedia Commons

I am a litigation consultant. Also known as a jury consultant or trial consultant, it is one of those “outside the box” professions available to those with a background in psychology. Litigation consulting has been in public view recently (and somewhat unfortunately) due to the primetime drama “Bull.” Among other things we conduct research (e.g., focus groups), prepare witnesses to testify, develop trial strategy, and assist with jury selection. A background in psychology has helped me with each and every aspect of my job.

There are no specific requirements or qualifications to be a litigation consultant. In fact, many of the founding members and Past-Presidents of the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC) do not have any advanced degrees. Still, they are among the best, most respected consultants in the field. Having an advanced degree makes it much easier to get started but, if you are good at what you do, people will hire you. For litigation consulting, and many other consulting fields, knowledge, experience and connections are much more important than advanced degrees.

So how do you get knowledge, experience and connections?

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you should start a consulting firm because it’s the easy route. In fact, it is much harder (and in some fields impossible) to start consulting immediately after graduation. Ideally you would work in a related field for some period of time while learning the ropes and deciding what area of expertise you have to offer.

All of that said, there are some things you can be doing now, as a student, to prepare yourself for a career in consulting. Here are some examples from my field.

1. Look for creative ways to immerse yourself in the field

I went to court and watched. As simple as it sounds, it’s the best way to get a feel for the job and learn how the process works. It was also a guaranteed way of getting into the room with potential clients (i.e., attorneys). While at the courthouse I also got to know the jury coordinator, who is the person in charge of sending out each jury summons and then directing potential jurors to various courtrooms. By connecting with the jury coordinator I was always just a phone call away from finding out if there are any interesting trials on the docket. Try to think of clever ways to get free experience (even if you are not actively participating) and access to future clientele.

2. Join the relevant professional organizations

Academic organizations are more salient when you are a student. However, there might be more beneficial groups for your long-term goals. For an aspiring litigation consultant, that is the ASTC. Professional organizations typically provide networking functions at the annual conference, internship opportunities with the larger consulting firms, and access to listservs, etc., which are a wealth of information that you won’t find anywhere else. Most professional organizations have discounted rates for students. Join a group and volunteer for a committee. It is time and money well spent.

Christian Heilmann/Flickr
Source: Christian Heilmann/Flickr

3. Get public speaking experience

Resist the urge to ignore this point. If you are going to be your own boss, you need to be comfortable with public speaking. There is no way around it. For me, the early years in consulting included a lot of presentations at law firms. I contacted the head of the litigation department and offered to give a free presentation, providing a psychologist’s perspective on a topic relevant to their interests (witness preparation, jury selection, etc.). I wasn’t there to sell. I was there to give away free information. That got me in the room, which started the relationship, which eventually got me work. None of that is possible unless you are comfortable with public speaking.

4. Determine what courses outside the psychology department will help you prepare for your future job

If you want to be your own boss, you are going to need to understand how to run a business. Instead of choosing an elective because you think the class will be easy, why not try an introductory course in business? If you are a graduate student who is interested in litigation consulting, consider taking Torts or Civil Procedure at a law school. Your background in psychology is giving you the skill set but your knowledge of the field may need to come from other sources.

I hope this information helps you think about moving forward with a career as a consultant. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

About the Author:

Brad Bradshaw has a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Kentucky. He is the principal at Bradshaw Litigation Consulting, LLC, which is a national consulting firm based in Austin,Texas.

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