Dr Olivia Rundle, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania
Olivia is a full time academic employed to research, teach and contribute to administration and community engagement. She finds research the most satisfying part of her job and enjoys sharing her knowledge gained from her research with her students (both undergraduate and research higher degree students), fellow researchers, university colleagues and the broader community.
Why did you become interested in the dispute resolution field?
My interest was first sparked by a “baptism of fire” as a baby lawyer, when I found myself representing a client in the newly created “conciliation conference” process at the Magistrates Court. I had absolutely no idea what my role should be or what to expect from the conciliator. I had observed some mediations at the Supreme Court, but apart from that I had received no training at all in dispute resolution processes other than making submissions in court room advocacy. I don’t think I had even been formally educated in negotiation skills, let alone theory. My style of representation ended up being directed by a combination of my training as a spokesperson for my client in court and my open, conciliatory and trusting (also young and naïve) personality. My client was not disadvantaged by my openness, as the information shared was going to be revealed in any event (if it hadn’t already), but I felt very embarrassed when after I had made my “opening statement” the defendant’s lawyer merely said “I am instructed not to say anything”, and refused to engage with the process. There really wasn’t anything the conciliator could do about that. There was plenty of scope for reflection on that experience! I took myself along to be trained as a mediator. Eventually my interests in mediation, particularly its role within the formal justice system and the lawyers’ perspective and role within it, led to my PhD investigation of the Supreme Court of Tasmania’s mediation programme. In particular, I inquired about the perspectives, practices and roles taken by lawyers within that process. This topic continues to fascinate me.
What is your particular area of dispute resolution research interest?
Legal practitioners and dispute resolution, including the ironically “adversarial” attitudes that the dispute resolution and legal professions often have towards one another (despite so many legal professionals practising as DR professionals). I have an enduring curiosity about what motivates lawyers to approach dispute resolution in the ways that they do. There is so much complexity there – including the professional identities and obligations of the participants.
Whose research has influenced you? Why/How?
Professor Julie Macfarlane came to a National Mediation Conference during my PhD process and she had just published her book The New Lawyer. She went out of her way to be welcoming and supportive of me as a baby researcher, and this made a big impression on me. Of course, her work is so important and influential in the area of lawyers in dispute resolution, that I cannot help being influenced by it. She was also explicitly encouraging of me as an empirical researcher. I am hoping to make good on that with new projects in the next year or so! Other international names that spring to mind as having an influence (by being read and cited a lot) are Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Judith Resnik, Dame Hazel Genn, and Bobbie McAdoo.
Closer to home I think that the work of Hilary Astor, Laurence Boulle, and Nadja Alexander have provided a solid foundation of theoretical understanding upon which my work has been based. My close collaborator Assoc Prof Samantha Hardy continues to influence me with her enthusiasm, “can do” attitude and willingness to maintain a list of “things to do” that neither of us can hope to achieve in ten lifetimes! Sam stepped in as a mentor for me when I was floundering with my PhD work. We eventually built upon the ideas that flowed from our conversations in our book Mediation for Lawyers. I think that our joint projects ever since demonstrate the benefits of being generous to someone who is emerging in your field – we have an egalitarian and honest working relationship that means we continue to push one another to produce good work.
What dispute resolution research are you involved in at the moment?
My second area of particular dispute resolution research interest is in ways of improving dispute resolution practice. In particular, how to resolve ethical dilemmas, competing underlying values, and how to overcome our own unconscious biases that are there simply because we are human and are limited by our own life experience! My current research project, which has taken over my sabbatical this last six months, is inspired by the last of these. I am working on a co-authored book that will be a resource for any professional who works with people (yes, that broad!). Our target audience includes mediators and lawyers and the book will have specific advice for them. The book draws together social science and legal resources about the life experiences, legal treatment and conflict experiences of people of minority sexuality (gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual), sex (intersex) and gender (transgender, gender queer). We focus on individuals, couple relationships and parenting. Researching and writing this has been one of my most challenging projects to date and I have learnt so much. I am now getting excited about the difference that I hope the book will make for professionals and their clients, by raising awareness of the pervasiveness of cisgenderism, heterosexism and biologism and how these assumptions are inappropriate for many people. The project idea came from some research that Samantha Hardy undertook which found that among her small sample many mediators interviewed thought that they provided a great service to their clients of minority sexuality, yet demonstrated attitudes that suggested they had not. Also, the clients who were involved reported low satisfaction with the services that they had received. This demonstrated a need for better understanding among the profession. The book has been a long time coming, but I hope that it will be worth it!
Where would you like to take your dispute resolution research work over the next ten years?
“After the book” I want to return to my focus on lawyers in dispute resolution and undertake more empirical studies to identify the drivers of lawyers’ behaviour in dispute resolution processes. I hope that over the next decade I will make contributions that lead to improvement in the field, by supporting professionals who work with clients in connection with their conflict. This includes legal practitioners, mediators, conflict coaches, and managers. Greater inter-professional understanding, critical analysis of practice, and practical suggestions are all contributions that we can make as researchers.
Another goal that I have is to provide support for emerging dispute resolution researchers, both informally and formally as a supervisor. I am by no means a “senior” in the field, but I believe that we should step up out of our comfort zone early in our career and be accessible and genuinely supportive of others. This is how we will surround ourselves with colleagues who are prepared to give us rigorous yet kind feedback and who we truly admire. This is why I am so committed to being part of the Australian Dispute Resolution Network.
What advice do you have for emerging dispute resolution researchers?
Tell people when you find their work helpful, ask them those silly questions, go along to conferences and other gatherings of people who research in dispute resolution. The people you meet when you are a baby researcher will become your mentors, friends, colleagues and collaborators.