Get to know Dr Lisa Toohey from UNSW Law School

As part of our series of posts introducing ADR Research Network members, we meet Dr Lisa Toohey. Lisa is a Senior Lecturer and director of dispute resolution programs at the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. 


Here, she answers a few questions about her career in dispute resolution.

Where does research fit in your professional work?

My work in dispute resolution is very much as an academic –  researching, teaching and supervising postgraduate students.  There is a very important link between teaching and researching, where each informs the other.  However from time to time, I have also worked on international development projects with an ADR dimension, including in Azerbaijan and Vietnam – those projects are both challenging and rewarding as they bring in questions of culture and the transfer of ideas from one legal system to another.

2.   Why did you become interested in the dispute resolution field?


Perhaps dispute resolution found me – as an undergraduate student studying law and German, I was preparing to take part in the Willem C Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot.  While waiting for my moot document to print on a university printer, out came instead some work on dispute resolution (in German) by Professor Nadja Alexander.   Nadja then appeared to pick up her printing, and we fell into conversation. I subsequently became her research assistant, and the rest, as they say, is history!   Working for Nadja, I learned about the field of dispute resolution, and discovered my interest in  curriculum design and teaching.  After graduation, I spent several years working as a commercial lawyer but was drawn back to the academic life in 2002. 

3.    What is your particular area of dispute resolution research interest?  


It’s actually quite diverse, but with a single core question. At a domestic level I am interested in how individuals construct ideas about their dispute resolution options – what makes them litigate or mediate, and what role do lawyers have in that process. But the majority of my work asks the same essential questions about states in the international system, especially in the trade law context –   how do states address their trade disputes, and what leads them to prefer one option over another.   There, I focus mainly on the involvement of Asian states in the World Trade Organisation.

4.    Whose research has influenced you? Why/How?


The article that was most influential for me was Marc Galanter’s  “Justice in Many Rooms” (1981) in volume 19 of the Journal of Legal Pluralism.     It highlighted for me what was wrong with my very black letter law education and opened my eyes to socio-legal approaches to law.  There is so much in that article, but my favourite quote is (at p.14) “Just as health is not found primarily in hospitals or knowledge in schools, so justice is not primarily to be found in official justice-dispensing institutions.  Ultimately, access to justice is not just a matter of brining cases to a font of official justice, but of enhancing the justice quality of the relations and transactions in which people are engaged.”


5.    What dispute resolution research are you involved in at the moment?


Two projects – the first is how China’s views of international dispute settlement have changed over time.  The second is a team project funded by the AIJA that looks at how individuals in a family law dispute gain an understanding of their dispute resolution options.

6.    Where would you like to take your dispute resolution research work over the next ten years?


I would like to expand my empirical work – for example with a project that better understands how  business people use (or don’t use) law as a means of addressing their business disputes.    For example, at what point does a building subcontractor see his business problem in legal terms, and what does that mean for the dispute resolution options that the contractor may adopt.

7.    What advice do you have for emerging dispute resolution researchers?

Be persistent and have confidence in the value of your research – as a field there is so much to be done.   And talk to established academics – the  dispute resolution field has some of the most generous academics that you will ever encounter when it comes to supportive feedback and mentoring. 
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About Dr Becky Batagol

Dr Becky Batagol is a senior lecturer in law at the Faculty of Law, Monash University. In 2017, she is the President of the Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network. She is a researcher and teacher with a focus on family law, family violence, non-adversarial justice, dispute resolution, gender, child protection and constitutional law. Becky is the co-author of Non-Adversarial Justice (2nd ed, 2014), Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law? The Case of Family Mediation (2011) and the author of many academic articles. Becky is the chief-editor of the ADR Research Network blog and tweets regularly under the handle @BeckyBatagol.

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