Alissa Sherry, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Expertise

Dr. Sherry consults in all stages of litigation, but has particular expertise in witness preparation and jury selection. Often witnesses can be intimidated by the legal processes and anxious about their performance on the stand. While Dr. Sherry works with a variety of witnesses, her primary focus is the preparation of scientific experts. An expert’s testimony is only as good as their ability to connect with a jury. Dr. Sherry can work with your expert to help him/her be more relatable to a jury by helping him/her translate difficult, tedious, or complicated testimony to layperson language and narrative. Similarly, Dr. Sherry’s role in the jury selection process centers on helping attorneys understand the relational nature of voir dire rather than one’s performance during the voir dire process. Choosing a fair and impartial jury for a particular case requires understanding the attitudes of your potential jurors, which often transcend superficial understandings of sex, race, immigration status, political affiliation, education level or any other categorical trait. It is your first opportunity to connect with your jury and the quality of this connection can make an impact on how willing the final jury pool may be to your persuasive efforts during trial. Dr. Sherry has a particular interest in helping attorneys connect with, relate to, and understand diverse jury panels who have likely had very different life experiences than the attorneys who ask them, at times, the most personal of questions. Your ability to select the best jury rests on your ability to do this in a way that is sensitive, informative, and relatable.

In addition to witness prep and jury selection, Dr. Sherry routinely assists attorneys with the examination prep of mental health professionals by helping to craft questions for direct and cross. In a civil case about a bridge collapse, an attorney would never question the need to retain an engineering consultant to help them with opposing counsel’s scientific expert. However, the proliferation of self-help books and televisions shows have mistakenly given the impression that psychological science is intuitive or otherwise “common knowledge.” This is not true. Unfortunately, much of the self-help literature finds its way into a courtroom because of the failure to challenge these belief systems and holding the expert accountable to the Daubert Standard of admissibility. A mental health consultant can help to limit this unreliable and invalid testimony so the court only considers testimony that adheres to scientific tenets espoused by the Rules of Evidence. Dr. Sherry has extensive experience working with attorneys in this realm by not only providing sample witness questions and possible answers, but also by helping the attorneys understand the science behind the concepts at hand so they feel equipped to make the arguments to the court that are consistent with reliable scientific inquiry.

Dr. Sherry provides consultation to attorneys in a variety of civil litigation contexts. She has experience with tort claims involving police misconduct (aka Black Lives Matter cases), wrongful death, product liability, and healthcare malpractice. She has written extensively and published in the areas of race, sex, sexual orientation and gender dynamics, having been the Associate Director for the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She has a particular interest in the area of race and gender discrimination, particularly in employment, academic, and law enforcement settings.

Dr. Sherry and Ms. Munevar are also able to provide bilingual assessments in civil litigation contexts. See Ms. Munevar’s page for more information about her experience.

Dr. Sherry conducts evaluations for various licensing boards regarding fitness for practice that involve mental health or substance abuse issues, first responder critical incident evaluations, and evaluations for employment for jobs that require applicants to function at their best in high stress environments. Dr. Sherry regularly evaluates applicants for the Federal Aviation Administration and has experience with various licensing boards in a variety of disciplines.

Dr. Sherry regularly consults with criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors about issues related to mental health and criminal conduct. From DUIs to capital cases, Dr. Sherry is available to consult on a variety of issues including substance use disorders, the role of serious mental illness in insanity or mitigation cases, the impact of cognitive impairment (i.e., IQ, learning disabilities, or other cognitive impairments) on one’s criminal behavior, and educating a jury on various social science concepts that may be relevant to a criminal trial such as race, social class, bias, decision making, eyewitness testimony, line-up protocols, coerced confessions, and child suggestibility. Dr. Sherry regularly consults with appellate attorneys in cases where ineffective counsel may have led to a failure in hiring experts, incompetent or inappropriate experts, and/or failure to raise a psychological issue that could have likely raised reasonable doubt in a jury or impacted a defendant’s sentencing.

With a population who has begun to live longer, brain health may not always keep up with physical health, leaving elderly populations vulnerable to manipulation by those around them or vulnerable to lapses in their own best judgment. Dr. Sherry consults with attorneys in two capacities: 1) conducting forensic evaluations with individuals whose attorney suspects they may lack the ability to competently execute a last will and testament, trust, advanced directive, or other legal document or 2) conduct a retrospective analysis of the testamentary capacity of the deceased when his/her last will and testament (or other estate documents) have been challenged due to suspected competency issues. Attorneys may find it useful to have Dr. Sherry provide such an evaluation to ward off a future claim of testamentary capacity in cases where a client intends to make unusual arrangements for their estate or in cases where the attorney themselves may question the client’s capacity due to strange or unusual interactions with the client or their presumed heirs.

Dr. Sherry is also available to consult with families who wish to communicate the wishes of their estate to their heirs before their death in order to minimize family conflict after their death and/or feel peace about their decisions while they are still alive. Because attorneys represent only their clients and not their heirs, these potentially difficult and complicated conversations may feel outside an attorney’s role.

Dr. Sherry has 15 years experience and over 150 court appointments in the field of high conflict family law. While currently taking court appointments on a very limited, case-by-case basis, she continues to consult with family law attorneys and testify as a consulting expert in family law cases on a variety of topics. With 13 years of experience teaching doctoral level Psychological Assessment and the doctoral level Ethics Course at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Sherry is particularly adept at helping family law attorneys examine/cross-examine court appointed or consulting mental health experts. As a consulting expert, Dr. Sherry has testified in the areas of attachment, the ethical practice of mental health disciplines, the scientific method as applied to custody evaluations, the impact of substance abuse on parenting, domestic violence, personality disorders, false allegations of child sexual abuse, child suggestibility, infant and toddler visitation schedules, parental alienation, co-parenting, and the impact of family conflict on child outcomes.

After 25 years of experience as a researcher, professor, psychologist, and administrator in the area of cultural diversity, Dr. Sherry came to the conclusion that the best chance for real change towards diversity inclusion, awareness, and equality comes from within an organization and its leaders. There is no one way to describe what a diversity audit is because it is different for every organization. Perhaps there are concerns about organizational climate, retention of talented women or people of color, or the ability of an organization to heal from the fall out of a coworker who has harassed those under his or her supervision. Dr. Sherry will work with supervisors, human resource managers, legal departments, etc, to assess the problem and provide feedback to help the organization move forward in a productive, supportive manner for their employees and the people the organization serves. Group diversity, when combined with a fair and accurate assessment of actual job requirements, can lead to greater creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction for an entire organization. What both the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements have taught us is it is time to look beyond diversity engagement as a risk management strategy. It must be an organizational value. Dr. Sherry can help a program, department, or company move towards a happier, healthier, more sustainable culture through a careful assessment specifically designed to address the concerns at hand. Every organization is different. Some may require a quick assessment of the policies and procedures in place, how internal complaints are handled, or how to increase transparency. Others may require the inclusion of other professionals with backgrounds in the law, communications, or people with specific cultural expertise. Big or small, any step towards a more inclusive and safe workplace is a step in the right direction.

Dr. Sherry’s experience as a tenured professor and researcher makes her ideal for developing, implementing, and analyzing research designs specific to your case facts for the purpose of voir dire research, making legal arguments, or in cases where statistical data drive your legal argument. Dr. Sherry has experience in the design and implementation of applied, social science research from a variety of methodologies, including experimental, quasi-experimental, qualitative, and case study approaches. Our staff is competent in the statistical analysis of data from the most simple to the most complex statistical techniques for the purposes of jury research, employment data, or other legal issues. In addition, our social scientists have experience relaying this information to lay people in a way that is easily understood and comprehended.

Background

I started my career in the Fall of 1987 shouting “War Eagle” at the top of my lungs every Saturday afternoon. I was going to be an architect, but a series of random events landed me in a Developmental Psychology class sometime around the end of my Sophomore year at Auburn University. Those random events are likely no more unique or unusual than the random events that pepper the historical tapestry of your own life. But to me, they called me to change my major to psychology and, ultimately, to this opportunity to connect with you...

I can’t say that I was thrilled when my advisor told me in the fall of my Senior year that I could do nothing with my Bachelor’s degree and I would have to attend another 6 years of school before I could make a living, but I can say I am grateful it turned out that way. The one liners of my career are easily found in my CV (hyperlink to CV) so I won’t regurgitate them here, but what each of those lines did for me is prepare me for my next challenge. I think that is what I love most about working as a psychologist in the legal arena: it is all about the challenge. And now, over 30 years after I shouted my first War Eagle battle cry, I am privileged to have been trusted to apply my academic knowledge and clinical experience to the law in over 350 cases.This is probably the best place to make one important point about my practice: my primary motivator is science.

Even where the one liners of my CVs may suggest a particular interest or social leaning, it is my job as your consultant to give you the scientific lay of the land in whatever area you hire me. As we talk, you may find this lay of the land counter to your client’s goals and decide not to hire me. Likewise, I may be the one to decline your case. If I do, it is because I learned a long time ago that I am no use to any case if I am not effective on cross.

My years as a professor and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin gave me the discipline to read and research a topic thoroughly enough to help me anticipate possible inroads by opposing counsel. Towards this end, I am not interested in being a hired gun. My record of court appointments and years of experience demonstrate that. But probably the best measure of my effectiveness is to talk to the attorneys have I worked with, even the ones who haven’t necessarily benefited from my opinion.

The Internet is full of misleading and unreliable information. Connect with a colleague who has worked with me and ask about his or her experience with me. I do this work because I love working with attorneys and I have great hope for social science’s impact on the law. As my practice has expanded beyond evaluations and testimony to trial consulting and consultation in employment settings, the attorneys and the opportunity to educate the court with social science continue to draw me to the work. With that in mind, please feel free to browse my offerings here. If you have any questions about whether or not I offer a specific type of evaluation or can consult on a specific issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.