June 29, 2021

Passion for resources law leads to long and successful career at UCalgary

Professor Nigel Bankes retiring after 37 years with the law school
Professor Nigel Bankes
Professor Nigel Bankes is happiest outside

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Calgary was the place to be if you wanted to study, research or practice in the field of resources law. For Nigel Bankes, fresh from completing a graduate degree at the University of British Columbia, it quickly became clear that if he wanted to continue his work in the area, Vancouver wasn’t the place to be.

“It was my interest in resources law which caused me to move to Calgary to work at the Canadian Institute of Resources Law, and eventually to begin teaching in the Faculty of Law in 1984,” explains Bankes.

During his tenure in Calgary, Bankes’ research has spanned a large swath of topics under the “resources law” umbrella, including carbon capture and storage, Indigenous property rights in settler states, unitization and joint development agreements in marine areas, electricity regulation, and dispute settlement under the Law of the Sea Convention and the Columbia River Treaty.

“Early on, my thesis supervisor, Dr. Andrew Thompson, told me that if I was interested in protecting the environment, I’d better understand what makes the energy industry tick. If you don’t understand the energy industry, it’s difficult to figure out what measures you can take to influence change.”

Over time, Bankes’ research has aligned with global concerns, developing an increased focus on the relationship between energy and the climate, how to manage carbon issues and carbon capture and storage and the integration of renewable energy sources.

“You can’t have an energy policy without a climate policy, and a climate policy is inevitably an energy policy,” he explains.

Professor Nigel Bankes

Professor Nigel Bankes is retiring from UCalgary Law after a storied 37-year career.

Teaching new students a career favourite

Despite his passion for natural resources, energy and environmental law, Bankes most enjoyed teaching first-year property law.

“I taught the course very Socratically,” he says. “When you’re teaching property law, or any first-year course, you’re teaching reasoning skills as well as the substantive contents of the course. And you can’t lecture about reasoning, you have to model it. With the Socratic method, you can engage in a back-and-forth between students and the professor to model and teach reasoning.”

“This is a skill that remains with graduates even if they don’t remember a single thing about property law,” he adds with a laugh.

Professor Jennifer Koshan, BSc’85, LLB’88 was one of Bankes’ property law students and is a current colleague. She recalls that when she started law school in the mid-1980s that “Many of us feared Nigel for his uncompromising rigor in the classroom. But he also came out to our Friday afternoon happy hours, sometimes playing bartender, and we got to know the lighter side of Nigel.”

Role in establishing grad programs, legal clinic

When not teaching hundreds of students with the Socratic method, Bankes was also heavily involved in establishing the graduate programs at the law school, and supervising about 40 students in their research, from issues in Indigenous Law to international environmental law to trade and investment law. He has served as the Chair of Natural Resources Law since 2008, and played an important role in helping to establish the law school’s Public Interest Law Clinic – a dream that was 30 years in the making.

“We put together a proposal but were never able to get the seed money. I was very happy when Jim Peacock expressed interest in securing the necessary support to establish the clinic, and seeing the clinic open and serving clients is very exciting.”

Professor Nigel Bankes

Nigel played a key role in establishing the Public Interest Law Clinic.

In addition to his role at UCalgary Law, Bankes had an appointment as an adjunct professor at the KG Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea, UiT, Norway’s Arctic University between 2012 and 2019. In 2010 the University of Akureyri, Iceland, conferred an honorary doctoral degree on Bankes in recognition of his contributions to the development of Arctic law in the areas of natural resources law, international environmental law and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“My career has been serendipitous in a lot of ways, starting with the Arctic Council wanting to commission the Arctic Human Development Report. I was asked to be the first lead author for the chapter on legal systems. This opportunity allowed me to build relationships with people across all eight Arctic states, which led to appointments in Norway, and the Universities of Lapland and Akureyri.”

Impact on global legal and policy issues

Both at home and abroad, Bankes’ work has had an impact on legal and policy issues related to the Arctic, the Columbia River Treaty, and the resource rights of Indigenous peoples, and his work has not gone unnoticed. He is recognized for his contributions to Canadian oil and gas law, water law issues in Western Canada, and the legal issues around carbon capture and storage. His work is often cited by various levels of Canadian courts, and all levels of government, NGOs, First Nations and Indigenous organizations, law firms and corporations have used him as a legal expert and consultant. 

He has twice received the law school’s Howard Tidswell Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence, the 2018 Clyde O Martz Teaching Award from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, and a Killam Annual Professorship in 2019.

“Nigel has had an enormously positive impact on his students over several decades, and has also been a mentor to many of his faculty colleagues, whether property law professors or scholars working in his diverse range of areas of expertise,” says Koshan.

While Bankes’ time at the law school may be coming to a close, he won’t be idle. He plans to continue doing research and writing, and contributing to ABlawg, the law school’s blog. He is especially looking forward to spending time with his family, both at home and abroad, when travel is allowed. An active hiker and cross-country skier, some would say he is happiest outside.

My work as always been important to me, but I’m most proud of my kids and the people they have become. My work has consumed a lot of my life, but at the end of the day, what matters most is family, and I hope to spend time enjoying life with them.

The Public Interest Law Clinic

One of Nigel‘s long-standing hopes during his career was that the Faculty would be able to establish a public interest law clinic at the University of Calgary. With the assistance of a generous donation from the Peacock Foundation, Nigel’s vision was realized when UCalgary Law’s Public Interest Law Clinic opened its doors on November 2, 2015.

To mark his retirement, Nigel will make a donation to the Clinic to support its ongoing work. If you, too, want to facilitate access to justice for public interest issues, advocate for law reform, and inspire a new generation of public interest lawyers, join Nigel and donate today. Your contribution will be applied toward the cost of hiring an articling student for the Clinic. All donations are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.

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