The University of Arizona campus in
Tucson, where the the new global mining law centre
The Global Mining Law Centre at the University of Arizona in
the US last month opened its doors to would-be lawyers and
mining executives looking to study in-depth legal aspects of
the mining industry.
The centre aims to ensure continuity of expertise in a
sector where on-the-job learning was once the norm.
"Those of us practicing for a long time have always asked
where the next generation will come from," the mining
centre’s director, John Lacy, told
The school seeks to train mining lawyers – in-house
practitioners and those representing mining companies at
external firms – alongside executives and engineers
within mining companies to improve their understanding of the
often complex legalities of the industry.
Lacy said that there are few law schools
that teach mining law. But while he emphasised the work done by
the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation (RMMLF) – a
Colorado-based collaborative educational non-profit institution
– he said that in the US, "you don’t have
the ability to go to one place and get the range [of legal
This is something that the Global Mining law Centre (GMLC)
aims to rectify.
An expanding role
The traditional legal knowledge required from mining lawyers
is wide ranging, covering areas from fundraising (capital
markets, private funding and farm-outs); joint venture
arrangements; project development and approvals; construction
and infrastructure contract negotiation; and settling offtake
In the public sector, the range of issues can extend from
the provision of legal assistance on granting titles to
counselling state-owned mining companies and negotiating
agreements, to issuing administrative permits, as well as
general oversight and enforcement.
But this spectrum of practice areas, while already sizeable,
is expanding, according to experts.
One area of growth stems from the ever increasing number of
mining jurisdictions, Janet Bewsey, a senior associate with
mining recruitment specialist Swann Global, told
IM. John Mollard, global head of mining at law
firm Baker and McKenzie, also highlighted increased regulatory
risk in many of the regions where mining projects are
"We have seen more sponsors engaging with government to find
new ways to collaborate in terms of strategies to counter
regulatory uncertainty," he said.
Ana Basitida, lecturer, at Dundee University’s
Centre for Energy Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP)
and director of an LLM programme in Mining Business Management
at Argentina’s Universidad Catolica de Cuyo, added
that mining law has expanded with the development of areas of
law and regulation applicable to "expectations from a broad
range of stakeholders on the impacts and developmental outcomes
of the activity".
"Mining lawyers must [now] be acquainted with – or
work closely with lawyers with expertise in –
environmental law, human rights law, local planning,
infrastructure construction, and legal issues arising from
building links between the mining industry and other sectors of
the economy," she said.
Mollard likewise points to the need for expertise in areas
relating to community concerns, indigenous rights,
sustainability, development approvals and sovereign risk,
anti-bribery and anti-corruption (ABC) legislation compliance
(which includes the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK
Bribery Act), and third party access to infrastructure. "The
breadth of legal expertise required by the mining industry in
recent years has grown significantly in recent years," he
Supply and demand
In spite of the swelling scope of legal issues in the mining
sector, given the current cash-strapped state of the industry,
it might be expected that mining firms would avoid seeking
expensive legal advice and that now might be a poor time to set
up a school focused on mining law.
But this has not been the case at the CEPMLP, where Bastida
said demand for courses remains steady.
"There is an understanding mining is a cyclical industry and
many professionals choose to invest in education at times of
low prices," she said.
Lacy argued that the cyclical nature of the industry
provides all the more reason for training executives in mining
"Issues arise when you get a collapse in the industry and
senior people take early retirement. Mid-level executives then
move in to replace them," he said. These employees may not have
the knowledge of the sector’s legalities
accumulated by their predecessors."
"Now is the time for [these employees] to go back to school
[so that they are better prepared for such an eventuality],"
Demand for lawyers in the mining industry has not been as
adversely impacted by the downturn in mineral prices as might
In terms of the current state of demand for legal expertise,
Mollard said: "There has definitively been a reduction in
capital raising, IPOs and related legal services over the last
"In addition," he added, "a number of mines have been put on
care and maintenance, therefore associated operational legal
advice is reduced."
However, Mollard maintained that other sources of demand in
the sector increase during industry slumps, going some way
towards compensating for the more obvious demand reductions:
"We are still seeing some activity in the M&A sector and
insolvency engagements," he said.
In this sense, according to Mollard, "There is often a
trade-off in commodity cycle downturns."
While there is no doubt that mining law is a specialist and
growing area, there is some disagreement in the industry as to
whether there is a gap in understanding.
Groups such as the Australian Mining Petroleum Law
Association (AMPLA) and the RMMLF in the US play an important
role in providing key resources to speciality lawyers, housing
tailored expertise in relation to a number of areas within the
But Bastida told IM that a knowledge gap
exists in the industry in the form of a lack of "a well rounded
understanding of the interests and expectations of a range of
stakeholders in a global setting".
Lacy was unwilling to go as far as saying that such a gap
exists. He felt there was nevertheless a requirement to be
abreast of the ever more complex topic. "Like so many things,
from an executive standpoint you need to make sure you know
what’s going on."
But the utility of a course like GMLC’s to
executives is greatly dependent on its content, Bewsey told
IM. Key areas she mentioned
included host country mining codes and permitting, legal
knowledge surrounding financial products and environmental
Bewsey also noted the growing number of mining jurisdictions
globally and questioned whether such a programme could address
enough of these to create a solid foundation for mining
She added that while mining companies generally are not
highlighting legal expertise as a key factor in their executive
search, juniors tend to place emphasis on bringing lawyers onto
their boards in non-executive capacities – as they
might with finance and accounting professionals – to
provide expertise in their given field.
This allows juniors to circumvent their lack of capacity to
employ in-house council, as their more established counterparts
Lacy nonetheless stressed the need for a singular location
to familiarise lawyers and executives with this niche area of
the legal system.
In the past, he said, such familiarity with the intersection
of the mining and legal worlds had to be acquired by lawyers
and executives on the job.
Nowadays, schools like the CEPMLP and GMLC provide a crucial
role in fostering this awareness among their students. "This is
a growing area where, if you don’t understand, you
are in trouble," he said.