Mining for new lawyers

In keeping with its business law focus, Western University’s Faculty of Law is expanding its mining law and finance program thanks to a $750,000 donation from Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP.
Cassels Brock, known as a leader in the mining industry, was approached by Western law to help further develop its mining law program. Paul Stein, a securities lawyer and co-chairman of Cassels Brock’s mining group, says the mining sector is booming and could use more lawyers. “There’s definitely a need for more mining lawyers in Canada, because I think a lot of the people who hold themselves out to be ‘mining lawyers’ are really not mining lawyers in terms of the intimate knowledge of mining,” he says.

Offering mining law programs at law schools will hopefully encourage more graduates to pursue that area in their practices, adds Stein. “Coming out of law school, I knew nothing about mining. And today I’m sure lots of kids come out knowing nothing about mining, but at least having those programs available will give those that have an interest in it the opportunity to learn about it in school.”

Stein says it was a “complete fluke” that he got into mining law. The firm where he articled had a long history in mining so he was able to find work in that area of law.

Mining law doesn’t seem to be at front of mind of law students because they’re just not familiar with it, he adds. “I think most law students — and we see that in the students we hire — and it’s understandable, they think of law as going to court,” says Stein. “So criminal law is the first thing that comes to mind, litigation is probably the second thing that comes to mind. And sitting in your office, drafting and working on agreements in any kind of corporate-commercial setting is sort of like, ‘Why would I want to do that?’”

But Stein argues mining law is much more than drafting agreements and lawyers are often involved in international work as well. “It gives you exposure to a very interesting community worldwide,” he says.

Western law dean Iain Scott, former chairman and CEO of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, wants to introduce students to a range of capabilities within mining law. “I think you could naively think it’s just about the so-called ‘dirt law’ aspect of mining, which is the contractual arrangements between developers and owners, and in fact, it’s much, much more than that,” he says.

Nearly 60 per cent of the world’s public mining companies are listed on a TMX Group exchange and mining currently contributes more than $40 billion to Canada’s GDP.

Scott says in order to keep the capital that’s being raised from mining within Canada, there needs to be more high-quality legal talent in the industry. “From my perspective — the practice perspective that I come from — I’ve seen the importance of mining law clients for firms. There’s a great opportunity for Canadian lawyers to do leading-edge work both domestically and globally.”

The course — mining law and project finance — is currently offered in January as an intensive month-long program and is taught by professor Barry Barton, who has done extensive work in natural resources law. With the funds from Cassels Brock, Western plans to extend it into a semester-long program and attract adjunct professors, as well as partner with the geology and finance faculties at Western to incorporate other aspects of mining.

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