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Joanne Thornton

October 22, 2021

Roz Bahrami

We sat down with Joanne Thornton, a Current Student Ambassador (CSA) within the Financial Law program, to learn more about her, her experience in the LLM, and how she hopes to apply what she’s being taught. Read on to learn more. 

Tell us a bit about you and what you do.

I work for the Bank of Montreal. I am the enterprise head of the bank’s Volcker Rule Compliance Office, and I oversee their global Volcker Rule compliance program. The Volcker Rule is sometimes described as one of the most complex pieces of financial regulation anywhere.  
Since completing my undergrad degree over 30 years ago, I’ve always had an interest in obtaining a Masters degree. I have contemplated a number of different options over the years, including traditional MBAs. I stumbled across the LLM program almost by accident. I’d been looking to get some form of formal regulatory compliance certification to add some academic credentials to support what I do for a living. That’s when I came across the program and thought, â€śOh my, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for all these years!”. Although I’m not a lawyer, I spend a great deal of my time in a lawyer-like capacity; I seem to spend more time conversing with and dealing with lawyers than anyone else. This program felt like a perfect fit for me. 

Thinking back to your research and discernment process around the LLM, what led you to this degree and what sealed it for you?    

I did poke around at other programs, but this is the only one that really appealed to me. There were a number of things that attracted me to it, including Osgoode’s reputation, the fact that it’s a Canadian Law School, and that it offered a combination of virtual and in-person learning, even prior to COVID-19. The ability to attend classes virtually when my schedule required it, along with the opportunity to attend in-person was a big draw.   

What kind of expectations and concerns did you have? What did you discover upon actually beginning the degree?

I don’t think my concerns were unusual, especially for someone coming into the program later in life… “Will I be up to it? Will I be able to handle it? As a non-lawyer, would I be at a disadvantage?” I had some fabulous references who reassured me that I’d be fine, but you don’t know what the field is going to look like, especially in the classroom.  

In terms of expectations, it’s interesting… I had to start with the Introduction to Graduate Legal Studies course, which made me a bit nervous. But, I ended up doing extremely well and my marks have been strong since then – which is obviously positive! It was like, “Oh wow, okay! This was obviously the right decision.” 

Can you speak more about the interaction between lawyers and non-lawyers in the program, and how that felt for you? 

I do have a bit of an advantage in that respect. I do a fair bit of regulatory analysis for a living, so focusing on and interpreting legal material comes fairly easy to me. What was new to me was case law and how it impacts the evolution of how laws are interpreted in Canada. I found that really interesting, especially compared to the lawyers in my program for whom I’m sure this was already common knowledge. 
We’ve got a great cohort. It’s a great group of people; most people are very engaged, and everyone is very respectful. 

How were you hoping to benefit from the degree? What were you hoping to learn and apply?  

I work in a department that is filled with lawyers. When I mention that I am part-way through my LLM at Osgoode, people react very positively. I see having the LLM as being advantageous for future growth opportunities. The degree is looked upon favourably, as is the fact that I am pursuing it. 

One of the things that I like about the program is that we are able to tailor the program to suit our individual needs by selecting from a variety of electives from within, and also outside, the specialization. I’ve found that a number of the specialization’s electives are directly applicable to my role. I recently finished Compliance in the Financial Services Sector and couldn’t have found a course more on point for me in terms of day-to-day applicability. It’s been excellent for someone like me and what I do. 

Tell us more about your student life. 

Unfortunately, I started the program in the middle of Covid. However, despite this, the program staff did a great job of creating a welcoming orientation environment by hosting a number of virtual activities including virtual games, events, and networking opportunities. I definitely did take advantage of these opportunities when I first started the program. 

Osgoode also offers lots of resources like how to prepare for a job, network, or develop a resume. Although they’re not things that I need at this stage, they are very helpful for younger professionals.

What would you say to a prospective student? 

If you’re like me and it’s been a number of years since you’ve been in school, don’t be afraid to give it a try. When I look at everyone’s reactions during the virtual classes and listen to their comments – it’s obvious that everybody is getting value from these courses. Overall, the experience has been wonderful. I’ve very much enjoyed it. 

Want to learn more about the Professional LLM in Financial Law? Sign up for an Information Session!