Help wanted: External Quality Assurance Officer for Forensic Laboratories

On occasion I attend various scientific short courses such as the ones put on by the American Chemical Society, the National Fire Protection Association, The Chromatography Forum of Delaware Valley or various manufacturers such as Restek, Agilent and the like. I highly commend any lawyer to go to these conferences and seminars. In my opinion it is far better to gain the fundamental knowledge from the source as often these seminars are taught subject matter preeminent experts and thought leaders in the particular field.

I try my best to maintain a very low profile when I attend these courses. I feel as though I am an invited guest into this wonderful world and as such it is best to be an interested, but not terribly actively engaged, participant. This is not to mean that I don’t pay great attention or refuse to answer questions when they are asked of me or don’t ask questions when I don’t understand concepts, but I also don’t volunteer to answer questions or hijack the course in an effort to get the answer some esoteric aside that is not generally applicable to the core audience. As a general proposition, these classes are made up entirely of people who are in industry. Rarely, if ever are there state scientists there. I never run into another attorney (unless I recruit a friend to come to the course with me).

Invariably, no matter how big the short course is, there comes a time when the class participants introduce themselves to each other in the class. Sometimes I cringe a little bit as I am not a credentialed scientist and am not actively involved in the testing of samples or in the direct application of the science. When that is revealed, there are typically one of two types of reactions by the audience or the instructor: a witty one or an accepting one. Largely, everyone is very accepting. It is funny that at these short courses, in the rare case when they are there, state scientists who you may presume are most likely not to accept my existence on the planet earth turn out to be the most accepting of my presence and involvement. Perhaps it is because we are outside of the courtroom and the adversarial system. In fact, many of them make it a point to come up to me and commend me for attending the class and complement me for answering questions correctly or asking thoughtful questions. The witty reception moments are usually based upon the default position that they think that I have absolutely no prior exposure to the topic. Then after it is revealed that I do, an equilibrium is achieved where I am treated just as any other student.

All of this leads me to highly recommend to my colleagues that they take these types of courses. You learn a lot. You network a great deal.

As mentioned above, there is a point in time in these courses where introductions are made. So, the question becomes what do you say to this audience. I used to give my standard “elevator speech” when I was asked which goes something like this: “I am a trial attorney who specializes in using validated forensic science and exposing non-validated forensic science for the benefit of the citizen among us who has been accused of a crime.” That sounds nice. It is wholly accurate. It is also a good statement to use for a general audience. However, for this specific type of audience, meaning scientists in short courses, it is not terribly descriptive. So, I got to thinking about what is it that I really do and how can I present it in a way that resonates, and does not seem to be overtly confrontational so that it would not invite a witty retort or that inaccurate default position that some would assume with my profession. After a while, it came to me:

I am an external quality assurance officer for laboratories who present their conclusions and data in court.

That is certainly true. It is far more descriptive. I look at data, reports and credentials of those performing assays as any good and conscientious QA officer would do in a given laboratory. I just do it externally.

So now I am recruiting you my colleague and saying “I want you,” not unlike Uncle Sam in World War II, and recruiting/challenging you to become a detail-oriented external quality assurance officer for crime laboratories. It is a great job with a bright future where you can make a true difference in someone’s life.

I want you

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