Dean R.P. Edwards
Volume 1, Issue 10 (Originally Published on 7 May 2012)
Lisa Sarmas teaches Trusts in the JD program, and taught several classes for the LLB, such as Law and Sexuality, and History and Philosophy of the Law.
On law school
Lisa said her first interest in law came from watching Petrocelli, a TV legal ‘whodunit’ drama revolving around a criminal lawyer that ran during the mid-70s. After completing her dual Law and Arts degrees at Melbourne, studying history and political science, Lisa went on to earn her articles at a commercial firm, but said that working on an academic level always appealed toher. Lisa said, however, that she “stumbled into legal academia”. “I always thought if I was going to work in academia, it would probably involve the Arts side of my degree”, she said.
Oddly, Lisa told De Minimis that, as a student Trusts was her “least favourite subject”. “I sort of fell into teaching Trusts by accident”, Lisa said, “but I was lucky enough to teach it with some great lecturers, and I developed a love for it”.
On being a lawyer
Lisa said that the best thing about being a lawyer is that you develop skills of analytical clarity which you can apply to everyday social and political issues. It is both reflective of prevailing social and political conditions and a powerful instrument that can be used to help change those conditions. “The law is a barometer about social conditions, and you can see the social context in the case law, including the cases in subjects like Trusts, which are often wrongly viewed as purely doctrinal and ‘black letter’”, she explained. At its best, law, “can provide the necessary tools to help people realise their rights and even to achieve broader social justice objectives”, while “at its worst, on the other hand, it can obfuscate and actually be used against the achievement of these ends”
Lisa’s personal academic interests in legal theory range from the theoretical and political to interdisciplinary approaches. Despite some inevitable difference of opinion with other academics regarding legal theories, Lisa said that “colleagues here do respect each other’s views.”
On changing the world
Given the chance, Lisa said she would “eliminate violence and the violence of poverty”, which she said, are at the root of many societal problems.
Lisa's office is adorned with photos of her seven-year-old daughter. Family is central to her life. Another love is books. With a diverse taste in literature, Lisa didn’t want to sideline any favourite fiction writers, and veered toward legal works. She recommended American lawyer and Professor Patricia Williams’ The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor, and Margaret Davies’ Asking the Law Question.
Advice for JD students
Lisa encouraged students to “really try to enjoy their degree”. “Students should think laterally about the law, not just about the business of marks and getting a career”, she explained. “Law empowers you with knowledge. I think it’s important to give something back to society with that knowledge”.