Associate Professor Molly Townes O'Brien

Honorary Associate Professor
A.B. Brown University; 1982; J.D. Northeastern University; 1986; LL.M. Temple University; 1997, Senior Fellow Higher Education Association, SFHEA; Tuckwell Fellow.
+61 2 6125 0437
Room 7.2.14

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Biography

A graduate of Brown University and Northeastern University School of Law; Molly served as a judicial clerk in the United States District Court and the Georgia Supreme Court before practicing law in Pennsylvania as a civil litigator and then as an Assistant Public Defender. She later was an Honorable Abraham L. Freedman Teaching Fellow at Temple University. In 1997; she joined the faculty of Emory University Law School and served as the Director of Advocacy Skills Programs through 2001. Molly has also served on the faculties of the University of Akron School of Law and University of Wollongong.

She has written extensively about legal education, trial practice, dispute resolution, and human rights. 

Significant research publications

Nobody Home — My Brain Injury and Recovery from Pavement to Podium, (2021) Stringybark Publishing, in press.

Trial Advocacy Basics (3rd edition) co-authored with Gary Gilden, (2021) National Institute for Trial Advocacy Press, in press.

Civil Procedure, (2nd edition), co-authored with Stephen Colbran, Sheryl Jackson, Peta Spender, and Tania Penovic, (2019) LexisNexis.

New Directions for Law in Australia: Essays in Contemporary Law Reform, co-edited with Ron Levy, Simon Rice, Pauline Ridge and Margaret Thornton, (2017) ANU Press.

‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ in Stephen Colbran, et al., Civil Procedure: Commentary and Materials (6th edition, 2015) Lexis Nexis.

‘The Cosmic Context of the Millenium Development Goals: Maximum Entropy and Sustainability’ in (2015)  Nanotechnology For a Secure and Sustainable Future, Tom Faunce, editor, Pan Stanford Publishing, co-authored with Charles Lineweaver.

‘The Challenge of the How: Developing a Process for Legal Educational Program Renewal,’ in (2014) The First-Year Experience in Law School: A New Beginning, Leon Wolff and Maria Nicolae, editors, co-authored with Anthony Connolly.

‘Mother Tongue Education as a Legal Right’ in (2014) Intersections: Applied Linguistics as a Meeting Place, Elke Stracke, editor, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, co-authored with Peter Bailey.

‘The Learning Journey: Please Take Me with You,’ (2014) 35 Adelaide Law Review 23-34.

 'The Power of Naming: the Multifaceted Value Of Learning Students' Names',  (2014) 14 QUTLR, no. 1, 114-128, co-authored with Tania Leiman and James Duffy.

'Connecting Law Student Wellbeing To Social Justice, Problem-Solving And Human Emotions', (2014) 14:1 QUT Law Review, 52-62.

Read selected publications in the ANU Digital Collection

Recent news

27
Mar
2020
Molly O'Brien
Molly Townes O’Brien is an Associate Professor at ANU College of Law.
13
Sep
2018
Image shows Associate Professor Molly Townes O’Brien seated and smiling
Shares her story at expert conference on influence of 'Frankenstein'

In the Media

3
May
2021
Molly Townes O'Brien writes in The Conversation
11
Sep
2018
Molly Townes O'Brien interviewed by ABC Radio Canberra
11
Sep
2018
Molly Townes O'Brien interviewed by ABC Radio Canberra

Past events

08
Aug
2017
Event image
1.00PM to 2.00PM Teaching and Learning Forum

Ideas and discussion, and how a Teaching Enhancement Grant might help.

Read selected publications in the ANU Digital Collection

Grants

  • 2009-2010 Australian National University Teaching Enhancement Grant, ‘Law Student Well-being and the Law Curriculum: Exploring the Links’ with Kath Hall.
  • 2009-2010 Australian National University Women’s Academic Advancement Grant, ‘Gender Issues Group’ with Juliet Behrens, Miriam Gani, Margaret Thornton and others.
  • 2008-2009 Australian National University Teaching Enhancement Grant, ‘Evidence in Context: The DVD’ with Gregor Urbas.
  • College of Law Internal Grant for research (2008)
  • 2006-2007 University of Wollongong Internal Grant, ‘Legal Skills Curriculum Audit and Evaluation’

Books & edited collections

  • Nobody Home — My Brain Injury and Recovery from Pavement to Podium, (2021) Stringybark Publishing, in press.
  • Trial Advocacy Basics (3rd edition) co-authored with Gary Gilden, (2021) National Institute for Trial Advocacy Press, in press.
  • Civil Procedure, (2nd edition), co-authored with Stephen Colbran, Sheryl Jackson, Peta Spender, and Tania Penovic, (2019) LexisNexis.
  • New Directions for Law in Australia: Essays in Contemporary Law Reform, co-edited with Ron Levy, Simon Rice, Pauline Ridge and Margaret Thornton, (2017) ANU Press.
  • Trial Advocacy Basics (2nd edition) co-authored with Gary Gilden, (2016) National Institute for Trial Advocacy Press.
  • Trial Advocacy Basics, co-authored with Dent Gitchel, (2006) National Institute for Trial Advocacy Press.
  • Civil Procedure, co-authored with Stephen Colbran, Roger Douglas and Sheryl Jackson (2016) LexisNexis Butterworths.

Book chapters

  • ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ in Stephen Colbran, et al., Civil Procedure: Commentary and Materials (7th edition, 2019) Lexis Nexis.
  • ‘Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: Promoting Cooperation and Sustainability,’ in (2018) Old Issues – New Perspectives, D. A. Frenkel (ed.) ATINER Institute for Education and Research. Athens: Greece. ISBN 978-960-598-174-7, co-authored with Charles Lineweaver.
  • ‘Connecting Law Students to Health and Wellbeing’ in (2016) Promoting Law Student and Lawyer Well-Being in Australia and Beyond, Rachel Field, James Duffy and Colin James, editors, Routledge.
  • ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ in Stephen Colbran, et al., Civil Procedure: Commentary and Materials (6th edition, 2015) Lexis Nexis.
  • ‘The Cosmic Context of the Millennium Development Goals: Maximum Entropy.
  • and Sustainability’ in (2015) Nanotechnology for a Secure and Sustainable Future, Tom Faunce, editor, Pan Stanford Publishing, co-authored with Charles Lineweaver.
  • ‘The Challenge of the How: Developing a Process for Legal Educational Program Renewal,’ in (2014) The First-Year Experience in Law School: A New Beginning, Leon Wolff and Maria Nicolae, editors, co-authored with Anthony Connolly.
  • ‘Mother Tongue Education as a Legal Right’ in (2014) Intersections: Applied Linguistics as a Meeting Place, Elke Stracke, editor, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, co-authored with Peter Bailey.
  • ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ in Stephen Colbran, et al., Civil Procedure: Commentary and Materials (4th edition, 2009) Lexis Nexis.
  • ‘Desegregation and the Struggle for Equal Schooling: Rolling the Rock of Sisyphus’ in Our Promise: Achieving Educational Equality for America’s Children, pp. 3-24. Maurice Dyson & Daniel B. Weddle, eds., (2009) Carolina Academic Press.
  • ‘Plessy v. Ferguson’ Encyclopedia of Race and Racism (2007) Macmillan Reference USA, Thompson Press.

Refereed journal articles

  • ‘The Learning Journey: Please Take Me with You,’ (2014) 35 Adelaide Law Review 23-34.
  • 'The Power of Naming: The Multifaceted Value of Learning Students' Names', (2014) 14 QUTLR, no. 1, 114-128, co-authored with Tania Leiman and James Duffy.
  • 'Connecting Law Student Wellbeing to Social Justice, Problem-Solving and Human Emotions', (2014) 14:1 QUT Law Review, 52-62.
  • 'Bring Your Whole Self to Law School', (2013) National Wellness for Law Forum, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.
  • ‘Law school too hard?  Why the struggle could be a good one’ (2013) The Conversation, co-authored with Stephen Tang
  • ‘Stop the struggle for the struggle’s sake: Make it meaningful’ (Paper presented at the 2013 International First Year in Higher Education Conference, Wellington, 8 July 2013), co-authored with Stephen Tang
  • ‘No Time to Lose: Negative Impact on Law Student Wellbeing May Begin in Year One’.
  • (2012) 2(2) The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 49-60.  Co-authored with Stephen Tang and Kath Hall.
  • 'Criminal Law's Tribalism', 2012 Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal, 31-50.
  • ‘An Active Learning Smorgasbord for Teaching Evidence’ 2011 Journal of the Australasian Law Teachers Association, 31-40.
  • ‘Walking the Walk: Using Student-Faculty Dialogue to Change an Adversarial Curriculum’ 2011 Journal of the Australasian Law Teachers Association, 129-135.
  • ‘Changing Our Thinking: Empirical Research on Law Student Wellbeing, Thinking Styles and the Law Curriculum,’ 2011 Legal Education Review.  Co-authored with Stephen Tang and Kath Hall.
  • ‘Facing Down the Gladiators: Law School’s Hidden Adversarial Curriculum’ (2011) 37(1) Monash Law Review 43-56.
  • ‘Developing a Professional Identity in Law School: A View from Australia’ (2010) 4 Phoenix Law Review 19-50. Co-authored with Kath Hall and Stephen Tang.
  • ‘Exploring the Group Identity Function of Criminal Law’ (2008) Proceedings of the 2008 Critical Criminology Conference [electronic resource at http://www.cjrn.unsw.edu.au] conducted by the Crime and Justice Research Network and the Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Network, Chris Cunneen & Michael Salter, eds., 285 -310.
  • ‘Using Assessment Practice to Evaluate the Legal Skills Curriculum’ (2008) 5(1) Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice 61-76. Co-authored with John Littrich.
  • ‘Essay Review: Final Test and Class and Schools’ (2006) 40(1) Educational Studies 77-83.
  • ‘Jury Reform Is Coming: Making the Most of Trial Practice Changes’ (2004)39 (3) International Society of Barristers Quarterly 429-441.
  • ‘Brown on the Ground: A Journey of Faith in Public Schooling’ (2004) 35U. Toledo Law Review 813-839.
  • ‘The Constitutional Common School’ (2004) 51 Cleveland State Law Review581-642, Co-authored with Amanda Woodrum.
  • ‘At the Intersection of Public Policy and Private Process: Court Ordered Mediation in School Finance Litigation’ (2003) 18 Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution 391-438.
  • ‘Essay Review: The White Establishment and the Character of Change’ (2002) 42(4) History of Education Quarterly 579 – 601, Co-authored with Thomas V. O’Brien.
  • ‘Questioning the Power of Consumerism to Reform Public Education’ (2001) 75 St. John’s Law Review 233- 250.
  • ‘Free at Last?  Charter Schools and the ‘Deregulated’ Curriculum’, (2000) 34 Akron Law Review 137-175.
  • ‘Discriminatory Effects: Desegregation Litigation in Higher Education in Georgia’ (1999) 8 William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 1-51.
  • ‘John Marshall Harlan as Prophet: the Plessy Dissenter’s Color-blind Constitution’ (1998) 6 William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 753-84.
  • ‘The Private School Tuition Voucher Movement and the Realities of Racial Politics’ (1997) 64 Tennessee Law Review 359-407.
  • ‘1990 Eleventh Circuit Survey: Trial Practice and Procedure’ (1991) 42 Mercer Law Review. 1543.
  • ‘1989 Eleventh Circuit Survey: Trial Practice and Procedure’ (1990) 41 Mercer Law Review 1421.

Conference papers & presentations

  • ‘Prisoners with brain injuries: What do we know and what should we do?’ presentation at 8th National Brain Injury Conference, University of Sydney, July 2021
  • ‘Representing the Brain Injured Accused,’ presentation at 7th National Brain Injury Conference, University of Melbourne, 29 October 2019.
  • ‘A Hidden Hierarchy: Helping and Hindering a New Online JD Program,’ presentation at Hierarchies in Legal Education Symposium, Temple University, Philadelphia, October (2019).
  • ‘Awakening from a Coma’ presentation in Frankenstein 2018: 200 Years of Monsters, Australian National University, Canberra, September (2018).
  • ‘Becoming a Law Teacher Again,’ ALTA Conference 2018, Perth Australia (2018).
  • ‘Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: Promoting Cooperation and Sustainability,’ Athens Institute for Education and Research, 14th Annual International Conference on Law, Greece (2017).
  • ‘The Cosmic Context of the Sustainable Development Goals,’ lecture as Visiting Scholar to Institute of Comparative Law in Japan, Chuo University, Japan (2017).
  • Chair, Criminal Law and Evidence Section, National Law Reform Conference, ANU College of Law, (2016).
  • ‘Getting Through the Crunch Times,’ Teaching and Learning Forum, ANU College of Law, (2016)
  • ‘Connecting Law Student Wellbeing to Social Justice, Problem Solving and Human Emotions,’ Wellbeing Network for Law, University of Melbourne, February 2013.
  • ‘Strategies to Improve the Law Student Experience,’ Teaching-Research  Nexus Symposium, Adelaide, February 2013.
  • 'Stop the struggle for the struggle’s sake: Make it meaningful’ (Paper presented at the 2013      International First Year in Higher Education Conference, Wellington, 8 July 2013)        <http://fyhe.com.au/past_papers/papers13/5A.pdf> co-authored with Stephen Tang
  • ‘No Time to Lose: Negative Impact on Law Student Wellbeing May Begin in Year One’. (2012) 2(2) The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 49-60.  Co-authored with Stephen Tang and Kath Hall.
  • Bring Your Whole Self to Law School,’ Wellbeing Network for Law,  University of Melbourne, February 2013.

Government submissions

  • ‘Inquiry into Access to Justice,’ Parliamentary submission co-authored with Simon Rice, Department of the Senate, Parliament House, 2009.
  • ‘Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous Communities’ Parliamentary submission co-authored with Peter Bailey and Jo-Anne Weinman, 16 September 2011.

Committees

  • Examination Review Committee, Chair, 2020-present
  • College Education Committee 2009-2013, 2016-2018
  • Tuckwell Fellow, 2015-2018
  • Senior Fellow Higher Education Association, 2014-present
  • LLB Hons Program Committee, Chair, 2016-2018
  • Director of Teacher Development, 2013-2015
  • Fulbright Selection Committee, 2009-2015
  • Law AD Network, 2011-2015
  • College Education Committee, 2009-2013
  • University Awards Committee (alternate for Wayne Morgan), 2011-2013
  • Organiser/Member of Prison (AMC) Outreach Group, 2011
  • Organiser/facilitator for monthly Faculty Teaching and Learning Seminars, 2011
  • ANU Vice Chancellor’s Working Party on E-Learning, 2010-2011
  • ANU Quality and Standards Working Party, 2011
  • VC’s Working Party on e-Learning, 2010
  • Director of Teaching and Learning, 2010-2012
  • Undergraduate Studies Committee, 2008
  • Library Liaison Committee, Chair, 2008-2009
  • Law Library Advisory Committee, 2009
  • CHAT mentor, 2008-2011
  • New Teachers Fora, Organiser and Presenter 2009, 2010, 2012
  • Visitors Committee, 2008
  • Summer Scholars Selection Committee, 2009
  • Honours Thesis Review Committee, Chair, 2009

Other

Teaching materials

  • ‘Learning from Experience: An Audit and Evaluation of the Legal Skills Curriculum’, published to the University of Wollongong Faculty of Law (August 2007) 46 pages.
  • Report and Recommendations of the Supreme Court of Ohio Task Force on Jury Service, Joseph T. Clark, Chair (2004) 59 pages http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/publications/juryTF/jurytf_proposal.pdf> at 10 April 2007.
  • ‘Jury Trial Practice Innovations Pilot Project’ Vindicator: The Official Journal for the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (Fall 2003).
  • ‘Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques Teaching Notes’ published to 500 visiting faculty for Emory Law School’s Techniques Program in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003.
  • Report on the Emory Law School Skills Curriculum, published to the Emory Law School Faculty, January 1999.
  • Williamson v. Shrackle, simulated case file in book form, co-authored with Steven Friedman and Kevin Prins, NITA Press, Colorado, 1999.
  • Techniques and Strategies for Upper Level Law School Teaching, materials and source list used for adjunct faculty training sessions, February 1999.
  • Adjunct Faculty Survival Guide, published to the adjunct faculty, Emory Law School, 1998.

Professional training sessions or meetings

  • Organised and hosted monthly Teaching and Learning group presentations and discussion meetings (Teaching and Learning Fora) for the full law faculty, 2010 – 2016.
  • Organisational Wellbeing Dialogue with faculty and students at Kioloa, Kioloa, NSW, Australia, 11 -13 March 2011.
  • Organisational meeting for the Law Associate Deans (AD) Network, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, July 2011.
  • International Association of Law Schools Annual Meeting, Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 2011.
  • ‘Teaching in Intensive Formats: The Problem Session,’ a Teaching and Learning Forum at ANU College of Law, 23 October 2009.
  • ‘Reflections on Teaching at ANU’, presentation to new teachers at ANU College of Law, 27 February 2009.
  • ‘Getting it Right or Getting it Written,’ presentation to higher degree research students at the RENZA (Research on Europe in New Zealand and Australia) retreat, October 2008.
  • ‘Jury Trial Advocacy’ a week-long intensive trial advocacy program, National Institute for Trial Advocacy, Lewistown, Colorado, July 2008.

MPhil supervision

I am willing to supervise in the areas:

  • Legal Education, Evidence, Criminal Law

I have previously supervised:

  • Evidence

Honours thesis supervision

I am willing to supervise in the areas:

  • Legal Education, Evidence, Trial techniques, Dispute resolution, Criminal Law, Human Rights

I have previously supervised:

  • Legal Education, Evidence, Trial techniques, Dispute resolution, Criminal Law, Human Rights

Current courses

Year Course code Course name
2021 LAWS4220
Class #1563
Human Rights Law in Australia

Philosophy & approach

My goals in planning the large group lectures are (1) to generate interest in the material; (2) to engage the students in actively thinking about, applying, extending, interrogating, and analysing course content; (3) to put the statutory provisions into context; and (4) to provide students with visual and auditory memory cues for learning the material. 

Generating interest in the material is, in my view, a prerequisite to deep learning.  If students take the course like a dose of castor oil, they may be able to hold enough information in their short-term memories to be able to pass the final exam.  But when they walk out of the exam, they begin to forget all they have ‘learned’.  On the other hand, if students become interested in the subject matter and convinced its importance, they become motivated to study, to learn, and to incorporate what they have learned into their long-term memories.

My second goal is to use the large lecture in a way that engages the students in actively using and critiquing the course content.  When students make active use of the course content by thinking about it, applying it, extending it, interrogating it, analysing it, disagreeing with it, comparing and contrasting it, and so on, they transform information into knowledge.  They are more likely to understand and remember information that they have used.

Providing context is another important aspect to teaching complex statutory schemes like the Uniform Evidence Law and the Court Procedures Act.  Trying to learn the rules of evidence or civil procedure in a classroom can be like trying to learn the rules of a complex and ancient game – without playing or even seeing a real game.  You would not ever expect someone to learn the game of cricket without ever watching a cricket match or picking up a bat.  Neither can students be expected to learn and understand arcane rules of evidence and procedure without a basic understanding of how they operate in their context.[1]

In addition to providing context, I also attempt to provide auditory and visual memory cues.  High impact images and sounds can make an impression and aid recall of information.  Because there is a large volume of information in these courses, memory cues assist the students to have easy access to what they have learned.

Techniques:  To meet the goals I have set for my lectures, I make use of media, particularly music, images and animation.  These media allow me to (1) generate interest, energy and enthusiasm; (2) present high-impact images and analogies that serve as memory cues; (3) to integrate practical contextual material seamlessly into the lectures; and (4) to pose both simple and complex questions for discussion and engagement. 

Theme songs:  As students walk into the lecture hall, I play a theme song.  The theme song for each lecture usually has a title or a repeating lyric that I will return to at some point in the lecture.  For example, in a lecture that makes an extended analogy between extraordinary pre-trial manoeuvres and combat techniques, I use the song ‘Kung Fu Fighting.’ (A full list of this year’s theme songs is attached as an appendix.)  Theme songs may serve as memory cues, but more importantly they fill the room with energy.  As I turn off the music to begin the lecture, the energy of the song carries over and creates positive classroom dynamics.

Images and animation:  My lecture slides contain images that are selected to generate interest, to stimulate questions, to add a note of humour or an aid to memory.  I have included some examples of my lecture slides in the appendix to this application.[2]

Images are also an excellent vehicle for presenting practical and contextual material.  They permit students to envision how the rule actually works (see example of first-hand hearsay in appendix).  Practical context is also presented in the form of visual depictions of case facts.  Images are used to support short anecdotes or excerpts from cases that are illustrative of the way the rules work. Using images promotes the use of cases for their story-telling and context-providing capacity.  Students are more likely to remember the rule of a particular case and be able to analogize future problems if they have understood and remembered the story (the facts, the images) of the case.   

Using slides to promote engagement:  Students in a large lecture are often reluctant to volunteer an answer to a question posed orally.  I use slides to pose multiple choice, true/false, or discussion questions. The use of a slide allows me to include more information in a question or to pose a more complex question than can be posed orally.  The slide presentation also permits various methods of engaging students in answering.  I sometimes pose a question and ask students to answer in a short free-write.  Other times I ask students to raise their hands to answer a multiple choice question en masse.  During several lectures I divide the class into teams to answer multiple choice questions as if they are participating in a trivia contest. The questions force the students to read and interpret the rules of evidence in class, to discuss them with their peers, and to come up with what they think is the best answer.  When the ‘correct’ trivia answers are given, students do not seem to realize that they are receiving a lecture.  Instead of listening with their heads down, they interject to defend their team’s answers. 

I also use slides to regulate the pace of a lecture and to pose the simplest and most important questions.  One of the questions I frequently pose in a slide is, ‘Why is that important?’ or ‘Why do we care about this rule?’  I pose this question repeatedly because, in my view, energy and enthusiasm alone are not enough to generate student interest and engagement.  These questions push students to reflect on and have their own answers about the importance of the material.  I find that, when pushed, students often come up with keen insights about why a seemingly arcane or obscure rule makes a real difference to real people.

Does it work?  For me, the most telling comments about my approach come from unsolicited student remarks after the exam.  Following the Litigation exam this year, several students told me that images from my lectures kept popping into their minds during the exam, helping them to remember course content.  Student comments on formal teaching evaluations also suggest that the strategies I use are successful in helping students to engage with and remember the course material.  Students repeatedly comment on the slide presentations for their ability to engage their interest.  The lectures are described not only as ‘entertaining’, ‘creative’, ‘vibrant’, ‘funny’, but also ‘clear’, ‘relevant’, ‘structured’ and ‘demonstrat[ing] depth of practical knowledge and understanding.’ 
 

 

[1] My concern about the need to improve student understanding of evidence in context led me, along with Gregor Urbas, to apply for and receive a Teaching Enhancement Grant to film evidence problems in a courtroom context.  The DVD has now been filmed and will be used in class next year.

[2] My 2009 Evidence lectures are posted at http://webct.anu.edu.au/SCRIPT/LAWS2207_Sem_2_2009/scripts/serve_home .   I divide the course with Gregor Urbas.  My lectures include Weeks 2, 6, 7, 8 and the lectures titled “Adducing Evidence” and the hearsay competitions.  Audio recordings of my lectures are also available on WebCT.

 

Past courses

  • Evidence
  • Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution
  • Human Rights Law in Australia
  • Special Topics in Criminal Law

How my works connects with public policy

In both my teaching and research I focus on what the law does that it could do better. 

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team