News & Stories

The wisdom of... Olivia Rundle

Insights from UTAS' Law School community.

Olivia Rundle is a Senior Lecturer in Law with a teaching focus in the area of civil procedure. She has practised as a lawyer and mediator and has predominantly worked in the family law dispute resolution context. Here she shares some of what she's learnt in the course of an outstanding career.

1. "Conflict is an opportunity."

"Conflict ceases to have so much power over you when you stop being afraid of it. My conflict management and dispute resolution skills helped me to step back from disagreements. I'm not trying to present myself as being perfect here, I can't always do this - but particularly in my professional life - I can step back from disagreements or disappointments and think about, 'Okay, well, what's the problem and how do we solve it?'"

2. Mediation can be "transformative and beneficial. "

"There have always been assertions that dispute resolution is second class justice and it's a poor cousin of litigation. [But] I haven't heard of anybody ever saying "I'm so pleased I had the opportunity to be involved in that trial. It was an amazing experience. I feel so fulfilled now that the judge has made a decision."

3. Mediation has more applications than people think.

"So often that claim is made, 'Oh well, nobody wants that in the commercial sphere,' for example. I really challenge that...It's not all big corporations. We’ve got a lot of small organisations or sole practitioners. And when they have commercial disputes arise there are often relationships that are quite personal, as well as professional, and even small monetary amounts can be very significant for people in their lives."

4. Alternative models are the future of the legal profession.

"We’re going to see continuing change in the way justice is delivered. [The next] generation of law graduates will face a different picture of legal practice than previous generations. It's a really exciting area and there's a lot of scope for creative problem solving [and] human focused - client-focused - approaches."

5. Money talks... but that's changing too.

"You can't deny that lack of affordability affects the justice system and the quality of justice that's realistically available for people. But we're starting to see quite a bit of innovation in response to this problem. [For example], courts have tried to provide guidance for self-represented litigants to build people's ability to engage with the formal justice system effectively [and] governments have funded duty lawyer schemes…."

6. "Nobody thinks they practice in a discriminatory or non-inclusive way."

"But the reality is that treating all clients 'in the way I habitually treated them' often means you're assuming that they are heterosexual and that their gender aligns with the sex that they were assigned at birth, and that they are either male or female. There is greater diversity than that in our society.... It's [also] really important that we remind service providers about the relatively recent history of institutionalized discrimination, the rapid law reform that's changed the legal view of people's identity and family relationships during their own lifetime."

7. "Social prejudice can play a very significant role in whether or not people pursue their legal rights."

"For example, if you're working with a couple who've separated [and] you know one of them is much more visible in their gender or sexuality than the other, the threat of outing can be used as a tool of power or violence. Visibility management is something that people manage on a day by day, moment by moment, context by context basis…We have a public justice system… Your job as a lawyer is to support your client to make fully informed decisions. And visibility management is one of the things about which this client group is going to be making decisions."

8. "It's important that students have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in some way during their learning."

"You can't always see yourself in the scenario but if sometimes you do during your law degree I think that will foster belonging… So, for example, I've always enjoyed playing around with gender stereotypes in the scenarios that I use…. Trying to use a range of names for characters that aren't all Anglo/white person kinds of name is another way that we can try to help all of our students see themselves."

9. "Critical feedback is the foundation of scholarly life."

"It's really important to recognise [that] critical feedback is a gift. So somebody, whether a lecturer or a peer reviewer, if I've submitted an article for publication, somebody has taken time to read what I have said and actually pay attention to it and provide me with their thoughts about it and that feedback is not intended to crush me. That feedback is intended to support me to ensure that my field is rigorous and to give me more confidence in my final product because it tells me what I need to do."

These observations are taken from a conversation on the podcast Stories of Our Law School.

Dr Olivia Rundle is the Wellness Coordinator for the Faculty of Law at UTAS. She recently co-authored a book, with Samantha  Hardy and Damien Riggs, entitled Sex, Gender, Sexuality and the Law, which deals with social and legal issues faced by individuals couples and family and families.