Ira Mark Ellman

Charles J. Merriam Distinguished Professor of Law,

Affiliate Professor of Psychology,And

Fellow, Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology


College of Law
Arizona State University
P. O. Box 877906
Tempe, AZ  85287-7906
Phone: (480) 965-2125   
Fax: 480-320-4092
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In recent years I have regularly taught the following law courses at ASU:


  • Family Law. This an introductory survey course focusing primarily on the law of marriage and divorce.. This includes the law governing entry into marriage, the legal consequences of being married, and the dissolution of the marital status. Topics include: the division of property, spousal maintenance and child support, child custody arrangements, antenuptial and separation agreements, and jurisdictional issues. Non-traditional families are also considered, including the rights and obligations of unmarried cohabitants and the establishment of paternity rights and obligations. Relevant Arizona Statutes are referred to throughout the course where appropriate as examples, but the course is not limited to Arizona law.

  • Gender and Family Policy. This three hour seminar addresses topics on gender and family policy. The topics addressed each year vary to reflect issues that are currently the subject of intellectual or public policy debate. Approximately the first ten sessions are devoted to a discussion of readings. The final three or four sessions are devoted to student presentations of their course papers. This class is offered in alternate years. To see the 2006 syllabus, click 2006 here. To see the 2008 syllabus, click 2008 here.To see the 2010 syllabus,

    click 2010 here


    Social Science in Law. I have taught his undegraduate class in the Barrett Honors College in the Spring of 2012 and the Fall of 2013. For the 2013 syllabus, click here.

  • Empirical Research on Legal Policy Issues. Professor Michael Saks and I offer this course in alternate years, enrolling both law students and doctoral students in psychology and allied social sciences.

  • Courts and legislative bodies rely on their beliefs about facts when they formulate legal policies: More police or longer sentences will deter crime; warning signs will discourage risky behavior; waiting periods will reduce divorce rates; malpractice liability will discourage physicians from practicing in certain fields; exposure to pornographic material, or cinematic violence, encourages antisocial behavior: juries can discern which witnesses are telling the truth; racially segregated education adversely affects African-American children. Those beliefs may be based on assumptions and intuitions, or on an understanding or misunderstanding of available scientific evidence. This seminar examines this process, with an emphasis on empirical knowledge available from scientifically sound social science research. The seminar is open to law students, and to doctoral students in the social sciences; the goal is an equal enrollment of students on each side of this disciplinary divide. Social science students interested in policy-relevant research should find this seminar helpful in formulating such a research program, and in understanding how to present such research to policymakers. Law students will learn how to be intelligent consumers of social science data,. Both groups of students will learn more about both the promise and the limits of social science research in the formulation of legal rules and policy.

  • This seminar is a core offering of the Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology, and of that Center’s newly launched Law and Psychology Program. The seminar will accomplish its goals in several ways:

  • Presentations by Leading Law and Social Science Scholars. The seminar will be conducted in tandem with the Pedrick Social Science and Legal Policy Speaker Series. A description of the speakers and their topics, for Spring 2009, is available in the speaker series brochure; click here. (The 2007 speaker series brochure is available here.). Their seminars will be attended by law faculty, psychology faculty, and the students enrolled in this class, which will also meet separately with the speaker. There will be short extra class sessions in the week before each guest speaker to review the speaker’s papers.

  • Student Projects. Students will work in two-person collaborative teams that combine one law student with one social science student. Each team will select a project, either of their own devise, in consultation with the faculty, or from a list of suggested possibilities that the instructors will provide. The purpose of each project is to survey, assess and assemble available social science research that is applicable to a particular legal policy question. We expect the law student to focus initially on the legal dimensions of the problem, crystalizing the legal issues and alternatives, while the graduate student will initially focus on reviewing the relevant social science literature, but we also expect that with one another’s guidance, each student will also become involved in the other’s tasks. Topics can cover a wide range territory where society uses law to solve problems, including health, environment, family relations, children's issues, regulation of science, education, crime, and the civil justice system. Some students will probably have ideas of their own; others might want specific suggestions from faculty. In the final weeks of the course, each tema will make a one or more presentations to the class on their projects. Our ultimate goal is for papers of publishable quality that will in fact be submitted for publication.

    Lectures and Discussions. To prepare students for their projects and for interactions with the visiting speakers, the instructors will present several introductory lectures, and lead discussions of some assigned readings. The focus here is to help law students think about how to read and evaluate social science data, and to help the social science students think about how to integrate data into the normative concerns that necessarily also guide policy. Good data may not settle the policy choice, but rather bring the normative debate into clearer focus (as the fog of empirical uncertainties lifts), making the conflict over values even sharper.

    Enrollment is limited to 16 – eight law students and eight graduate students in the social and behavioral sciences.

  • Case Studies in Law and Lawyering

This class, taught on an emperimental basis in 2008-2009, will be repeated for the 2009-2010 academic year. The seminar meets once a week for 7 weeks in the Fall semester, beginning in October. During these classes, students read about 15 case studies drawn from the “Stories” series that Foundation Press has been issuing. We will read stories from an array of fields such as family law, torts, property, employment law, tax law, intellectual property, administrative law, constitutional law, and others. The authors of these stories have read trial transcripts and briefs, interviewed the attorneys or parties, and otherwise did the background investigation necessary to put the legal dispute in the historical and legal context in which it arose. Our purpose in reading these stories is to provide students with a model for the kind of project each student will complete for the course.

That project requires the student to choose a case of his or her own, from any field of law in which the student is interested, and prepare a similar case study. I offer students some suggestions of cases, emphasizing ones that that have some Arizona connection, whether litigated in state or federal courts here. But students are not required to work on an Arizona case. I do want to find cases that are recent enough so that it will be possible for you to find and interview at least some of the principal figures, whether parties or attorneys.

Students select their case and begun establishing their research plan during the fall..This includes getting a good doctrinal command of the legal issues raised by the chosen case, and a sense of the potentially relevant historical or social facts that the case study should explore to put the legal issues in a wider context. The spring semester is devoted entirely to the students' work on their cases. We meet several times during the first half of the spring semester to receive progress reports on the case studies, and to allow the students to help one another in dealing with issues that may arise in their field research I also meet individually with students during this time. There will be interim benchmark requirements for the students to meet as they work on their projects, to ensure they are making progress in obtaining the necessary primary materials such as trial transcripts, having command of the legal and contextual issues, locating principals to interview, planning their questions for those interviews, and formulating the theme for the case study. Regular class sessions resume during the second half of the spring semester, during which students circulated their draft case studies to to the class.

Although the class meets for two hours at a time when it meets, it is offered for three units of credit because the work load will extend over a semester and a half period. It may be possible for students who wish to publish their work to continue perfecting it for an additional fourth credit.

Here are the two cases studies that students completed for the class in 2008-2009 (click on the paper to download):

Rebecca Ross, Arizona v. Berger: Is a 200-Year Prison Sentence for Possession of Child Pornography Excessive?

Asha Thomas, Twyman v. Tywman and Massey v. Massey: Creating a Standardless Tort


During Fall, 2005, I taught the following seminar at U.C. Berkeley (Boalt Hall), with Professor Stephen Sugarman.

  • The “Family” in Public Policy. For more information on this course, see the course description posted on the Boalt Hall website by clicking here.