Building communities of private law scholars

By Cathryn Lee

Private law scholarship lies at the heart of commercial practice and is regularly drawn on by courts, regulators and community advocates to guide and inform their daily work.

Yet, too often, promising young scholars are unable to get a start in the field because of a lack of mentoring and institutional support, particularly in smaller and regional universities. The Obligations Group at Melbourne Law School has been doing exciting work in recent years building communities of private law scholars across the Asia-Pacific region and providing aspiring scholars with much-needed platforms for early career research development and collegiate support.

The annual Obligations Group conference has been a particular focal point for this work. Obligations Group Co-Convenor Professor Elise Bant says that from its inception the conference met a clear need in the broader academic community.

“The first, modest one-day conference in December 2009 on the theme of teaching and research in remedies attracted 37 attendees from 17 institutions across Australia,” she says.

Many of those participants had never been to a conference, let alone presented at one. Most have now made the annual conference a permanent fixture in their calendar, whatever the topic.

Since 2009, the conference has addressed core private law teaching and research topics, including property, contract, unjust enrichment, trusts, civil wrongs and equity. In response to growing popularity and word of mouth, the conference has broadened its focus (and annual call for papers) to include all law schools in Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore. In 2016, the topic cycle returned to remedies, with the conference attracting 62 registrants from 25 institutions across the Asia-Pacific. It involved 20 presentations over nearly three days.

The broadening reach and evolution of the event is also reflected in the quality and variety of conference sessions. Last year’s event included a novel and hugely successful comparative panel discussion of Chinese private law remedies, presented by colleagues from Hong Kong and chaired by MLS Chinese law expert Professor Sarah Biddulph. It also included individual papers spanning the breadth of common law, equitable and statutory forms of relief.

Professor Bant is delighted with the growing popularity and diversity of the conference series, which she attributes to its unique character, combining research excellence with outstanding collegiality.

“Researchers tell us that through the conference they have met mentors, colleagues and, in some cases, collaborators for their own research projects, as well as had wonderful opportunities for expert feedback on their work, delivered in a supportive and considerate way.

“Many of the conference papers over the years have gone on to be published in leading Australian and international journals and to be cited by courts both here and abroad.”

Alumni interested in receiving invitations to Obligations Group events may register their interest by joining the mailing list at

Banner image: Professor Elise Bant

Image credit: supplied.

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 17, May 2017