Welcome Interview: Dr Mona Paulsen

29 September 2020


This term we have the pleasure of welcoming to the Department Dr Mona Paulsen (@loyaladvisor), Assistant Professor of Law. In this Q&A interview, Mona talks to us about her research, her teaching, and her ideas for the year ahead.


Could you tell us about your education and career before joining the Department?

You could say that I have always followed my interests and this has largely shaped my career. I carried out my legal training after a degree in History, and from there, I practised as a lawyer and found that I was particularly interested in cross-border transactions. I pursued that interest further with a masters of law in international law. From there, I worked as both advisor and legal researcher in several international investment treaty disputes and trade disputes. But at that point, I knew that I wanted to pursue an academic career, so I once again shifted gears to pursue a doctorate in international economic law. Following completion of my PhD, I taught international arbitration at UC (Davis) before I was selected as an Emile Noël Fellow at the Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law & Justice at New York University. Most recently, I was a lecturer and teaching fellow for the International Economic Law Business and Policy LLM programme at Stanford Law School.


What is your key area of research expertise and what drew you to the field?

Broadly, I am interested in the global trade and foreign investment legal architecture and how it structures international commerce. A distinctive characteristic of my work is the way that I draw from historical and interdisciplinary methods to scrutinize how ideas, interests, and institutions evolve over time. While working, I found myself curious about the assumptions embedded in laws organising global economic interactions between and among states and non-state actors. I wanted to search for a new vantage point and push the boundaries of current theories by searching for alternative ways to understand the core of the international economic legal system as a pathway to resolving its modern challenges. For me, this was archival work and assessing institutional design and law-making first-hand (or, as close to first-hand as I could). I believe historical and cultural context is a necessary first step towards fostering normative insights to current controversies.


Which piece of work are you most proud of so far?

My recent article, Trade Multilateralism and U.S. National Security: The Making of the GATT Security Exception (41 Mich. J. Int’l L. 109 (2020)), sheds light on contemporary questions and concerns involving national security and international trade. Through careful attention to the article’s historical context, I examined the appropriate invocation of Article XXI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. This project speaks to an urgency by which the multilateral trading system must consider challenges to the nexus between international trade and national security policies. I presented this paper at the Cato Institute, a renowned think tank in Washington, DC, and also to the American Bar Association’s Annual Conference, and the American Society of International Law. One of my favourites was a guest appearance on TradeTalks!, the leading podcast on international trade run by the Peterson Institution for International Economics, in Washington, DC.


When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your free time?

I have two young children, so of course I love spending my free time with them. Right now, we are scooting around discovering bridges and exploring all there is to see by the river. But I miss hiking and hope to get out of the city soon!


How have you experienced online teaching and learning in the new educational environment? What lessons should universities take forward from this experience?

At Stanford I taught the entire spring quarter online this year. It was a massive learning experience. I was teaching a very student-collaborative seminar and translating that to an online platform was a challenge.

The online learning environment can be a great opportunity, giving people access to rich discussion and learning from anywhere, but it involves a lot of creativity and thought to maintain the human connection. I focused on instruction delivery but, equally, I discovered students are eager to connect with you and with one another. And this requires new thinking on my part as to how to help achieve that.


In the coming academic year, the focus will naturally be on delivering exceptional teaching and learning, but when you do have the time, what would your dream research project be?

I have lots of ideas that I want to move forward with but right now completion of my monograph is my main priority. Its working title is ‘The Life and Death of Fair and Equitable Treatment’ and it is under contract with Oxford University Press. It’s based on five years of original archival research in the UK, France, US, Canada and Switzerland. The book’s locus is the ‘fair and equitable treatment’ investment treaty standard. Today, this standard is the most successfully litigated claim arising from international investment treaties. The idea of according a foreign investor in a host-country ‘fair and equitable treatment’ is quite vague; as a result, hundreds of investor-State arbitral decisions have elaborated on and, consequently, expanded the breadth of the content of this treaty protection.

What relations was the fair and equitable treatment concept supposed to create? What different functions were assigned to this concept, and by whom? My curiosity for these simple questions began well over a decade ago – as I was writing a memorial for one of these disputes. No one at the time had sought an historical investigation regarding the chain of assumptions built into the design of international investment law, specifically what work fair and equitable investment treaty clauses do within a legal regime designed for fostering economic development. The book becomes more complicated from there, but that is where it all began!

In the end, this book is about more than a single investment treaty protection. Policymakers are actively rethinking international investment law. My research into the origins of these international investment and trade law frameworks, and the trade-offs considered in crafting them, provide a valuable window into both possibilities and pitfalls going forward.


Finally, what is the best piece of advice you can give to incoming law students?

It is all too easy to get caught up in results. There is a value in focusing on that but it is very important to engage with your peers. Your law school career is a road shared with them. You are a community – work together, listen to each other, form study groups, share ideas, and talk through practice exercises and exams. Your community will pick you up when you fall and will motivate you to go further than you ever thought you could.

You also have the opportunity to consider different methodologies and theoretical orientations throughout your time at LSE Law.  Ask questions as to how law intersects with other fields; take a wide variety of courses and study areas of law outside your career plans. I am an example of someone who started off in the corporate law world and went off into a very specialised area of law that I find challenging and exciting. 



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