Building a bridge between public defenders and STEM experts.

About Us

We provide free technical consultations to attorneys representing indigent criminal defendants. We match attorneys with civil-minded volunteers with graduate-level training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Our goal is to: (1) improve math and science literacy in the courtroom and (2) make opportunities to make a difference in the criminal justice system more accessible to non-lawyers.

For attorneys

Often, defense lawyers are the only thing shielding the most vulnerable members of society from the prosecutorial power of the state. In addition to being overworked and underfunded, attorneys representing indigent criminal defendants are being asked to evaluate the credibility of evidence beyond their legal expertise with increasing frequency. If you decide to work with PDQuery on one of your cases, we’ll provide you with more than generalized training on DNA or cell phone evidence. We’ll match you with experts who can answer specific questions relevant to your legal strategy. We’ll help you understand what the evidence against your client says and, perhaps more importantly, what the evidence does not say. Our volunteers can support you by:

  • Clarifying the meaning of specific terms and the conclusions that can be drawn from them
  • Pointing to high-value sections of the record and where additional information can be useful
  • Conducting statistical analyses of high-volume data
  • Flagging relevant academic literature
  • Determining whether hiring an expert is worthwhile
  • Developing questions for cross-examination

If you’re struggling to understand technical evidence and lack the resources to hire an expert consultant, please reach out to us.

For STEM experts

Please consider volunteering with us! If you’re curious to learn more about the criminal justice system and interested in applying your specialized training to a real-world context, we'd love to work with you.

We’ll help find where your knowledge and skills could fit in. No legal training needed.

About the team

Dana Yeo

Corporate Associate at Cooley LLP

Alex Carney

Visiting Assistant Professor at University of Rochester

Zhenghao Chen

Associate Director of ML at Calico Labs

Madeline Grade

Resident Physician at UCSF Medical Center

Evan Holloway

Clinical Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow at UCSF

Andrea Roth

Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs for interested attorneys

What areas does PDQuery consult on?

To date, our most popular requests have been for: (1) medical and psych record consultations and (2) statistical analyses. We are, however, looking to expand the areas where we might be useful. Requests inform our recruiting efforts so please feel free to be overinclusive in your submission.

How long will it take for me to get paired with a consultant after I submit a request?

Once initial intake is complete, you will be paired with a consultant within a few days.

How long will it take for my questions to be answered?

We typically give our volunteers 2-3 weeks to review case files and gather their initial impressions. Barring exceptional circumstances, we do not provide consultations with tighter turnarounds.

Is this service really free?

Yes. We are committed to providing consultations at no cost to attorneys representing indigent criminal defendants.

FAQs for interested volunteers

I don’t know anything about the law or how the legal system works, can I still participate?

Yes! Our aim is to lower the barrier for people who have STEM expertise to have an impact in criminal justice. If there’s a need for your area of expertise, we’ll train you. You’ll be paired with an experienced consultant during your onboarding process and a case manager will be available to answer questions.

I have a graduate degree but have been out of school for a few years, am I eligible?

Yes! One of our goals is to create more opportunities for people with graduate-level STEM degrees to get more involved in criminal justice. Work experience is definitely a plus!

Will I get legal training?

We don’t provide any formal legal training but we'll work to ensure that you have the appropriate understanding of the criminal justice system involvement needed for your cases.

What is the time commitment if I’m selected to volunteer?

The time commitment for each project varies, but typical projects will not require more than a few hours per week. Our interest is in providing good coverage to the attorneys which means our coordinators will work with you to find a project that is appropriate given the amount of time that you’ll be able to commit. We also understand that life happens and have contingency plans if issues arise.

What makes a good volunteer?

In addition to looking for people with relevant domain expertise and rigor, we’re also looking for strong communicators. This work is inherently interdisciplinary which means that you’ll be talking to people with very different backgrounds and prior knowledge about your area of expertise. Exceptional volunteers are: (1) aware of the scope and limitations of their own expertise, (2) open-minded about how technical answers translate into legal strategies, and (3) appreciative of the broader context in which their answers will be applied.