[Special Issue] #10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Prof Nadja Alexander, Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy
This interview is released in conjunction with Singapore Convention Week 2021.
The last #10QuestionsWithMaxwell interview for #SCWeek2021 special issue features Prof Nadja Alexander, Professor of Law (Practice) and Academic Director of Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA). Nadja is an award winning author and educator, a conflict intervention professional, and an adviser on mediation policy to international bodies and national governments. She has worked in conflict resolution settings in more than 40 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania, and is recognized as a global thought leader in mediation (Who’s Who Legal). Nadja is a member of the International Advisory Board of the UN Office of the Ombudsman and a lead academic for the APEC Online Dispute Resolution Collaborative Framework; she sits on the board of the Singapore International Mediation Institute. Nadja holds honorary academic appointments in Australia and the United States. She was previously a Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Her books include International and Comparative Mediation, the EU Mediation Law Handbook, and The Singapore Mediation Handbook.
In this interview, Nadja shared highlights throughout her mediation career, 1-2 key findings on the International Dispute Resolution Survey 2021, her teaching philosophy, and more.
Read her interview below:
Q: When did you realise mediation is for you?
A: Early in my career, I was working with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) when I encountered mediation as part of a client project on strategic dispute management. Back then, mediation was untamed terrain – there were no rules, no dedicated mediation institutions. It was tremendously an exciting time for a young professional to enter the field.
Q: Share with us some of the highlights throughout your career as a mediator.
A: Some highlights throughout my mediation career would have been the unexpected cases that defy neat legal categorisation, that cross borders and cultures. Every mediation is different and I enjoy designing bespoke mediations. For example, I recall one mediation of a novel civil claim that centred on the untimely death of a young person. In this case, both formal law and local customary law played a critical role in reaching resolution. There were cross-border aspects, online elements, intense interpersonal dynamics, and high public interest in the dispute. This is ideal for a tailored mediation process.
Q: What do you think are the key ingredients to being a good negotiator/mediator?
A: Every mediator brings different value to the table. The key ingredient is to always be yourself. Beyond that – patience, persistence, people skills, and the ability to analyse and connect the dots in different ways.
Q: Was (or were) there any individual(s) that played a role in the success of your career?
A: Nothing happens without others. People who open a door for you, bosses who let you take a risk, clients who trust you, colleagues who inspire you, students who motivate you, and children who keep you grounded. In Singapore, I’m surrounded by a fabulous professional mediation community that enables each one of us to achieve even more.
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Q: How has the mediation scene change over the years you’ve been in practice?
A: When I started, mediation was an outlier in dispute resolution. Today’s mediation has gained enormous visibility, credibility and legitimacy, internationally. Corporations, countries and communities are increasingly looking at ways to engage their counterparts in dialogue – this makes mediation attractive.
Q: What is one major development you are anticipating in the new ADR space?
A: Together, mediation and technology will transform how we design dispute management processes and what they look like. Technology is already incredibly sophisticated and goes well beyond social communication platforms.
Q: SIDRA presented its preliminary findings of the International Dispute Resolution Survey 2021 during Singapore Convention Week. Could you share 1-2 key findings with us?
A: The preliminary 2021 data seems to confirm an emerging trend: commercial mediation is being used in cross-border settings more than we think – more than litigation but still less than arbitration. It is employed both as a standalone procedure and equally as a central element of mixed mode procedures, such as Arb-Med-Arb. Unsurprisingly, this finding is accompanied by increased activity in the mixed mode, multi-tiered dispute resolution space – in terms of both contractual clauses and international practice.
Q: You teach at the School of Law in Singapore Management University (SMU). Could you share your teaching philosophy?
A: Teaching is sharing. Not just the substance of the topic and not just the answers. Often, questions can be more important than the answers. I love sharing my curiosity of, and enthusiasm for, dispute resolution and the law. When this happens, teaching becomes a conversation, with teaching and learning happening on both sides of the lectern.
Q: Share some advice to young individuals who are looking to get into the field of mediation.
A: There are many access points to enter the field of mediation so don’t limit yourself by knocking on the same door, again and again. Opportunities are emerging through the increasing use of mixed mode procedures combining mediation, arbitration and other mechanisms, as well as online dispute resolution (ODR). The art of mediation advocacy is developing as a new legal specialisation. Finally, the capacity to design dispute resolution systems is critical for newcomers serious about making their mark in this fast-developing field.
Q: Lastly, to get to know you more on a personal level, could you share with us 3 things people don’t know about you?
A: I grow vegetables at home. It’s such a great feeling to be able to pick my own kai-lan just before dinner.
Although I no longer have a real collection, I adore hats. All sorts of hats – sun hats, berets, top hats, derby hats, crazy hats. My favourite was a black velvet top hat with a secret compartment for a “toy” white rabbit. It would have great fun pulling the rabbit out of the hat in front of bedazzled kids and bemused (and increasingly bored) friends.
We have just adopted two playful, boisterous kittens – who already have taken over our home, and our hearts.