January 12, 2024
Joanne Thornton is not ashamed to admit that she entered her first classes in OsgoodePD’s part-time Professional LLM in Financial Law with a certain amount of trepidation.
Despite more than a decade as a regulatory compliance professional – most recently as the Director of BMO Financial Group’s Volcker Rule Compliance Office – she had never had any formal legal training and worried that this could put her at a disadvantage.
“There were a handful of us without a law degree, but most of my classmates were lawyers, so I was somewhat nervous,” she says. “In the end, we were all interacting together and it didn’t hinder my ability to be successful at all.”
“I had a blast,” Thornton adds.
Few with any knowledge of her professional history would have shared Thornton’s doubts about her ability to adapt to life at Osgoode.
After graduating into a tough job market during the early 1990s with an undergraduate degree in business and economics, Thornton started her career at a public utility, working her way up to a management role before making the switch to finance.
“It was my second career, although I’ve been in the industry now for over 20 years,” Thornton says.
During that time, she has surveyed the financial services field from virtually all vantage points, from public-facing positions in bank branches to management and training roles in the institution’s back-office functions.
In her current role, Thornton is a key advisor to BMO’s senior management on the global impact of the Volcker Rule, which traces its origins to the landmark U.S. post-financial crisis legislation the Dodd-Frank Act and is often described as one of the world’s most complex pieces of financial regulation.
“I’ve done vastly different jobs over the years, but it keeps things interesting,” she says.
As she progressed through the ranks, Thornton says she always harboured an ambition to pursue further education, but was unable to find a program that would meet her needs until she stumbled upon a brochure for Osgoode’s Financial Law LLM and discovered a course that sounded tailor-made.
“It was such a natural fit, given the environment I work in,” Thornton explains. “Over the course of my career, much of my work has concerned the interpretation of regulations, which are all written in legalese. And the way my department is set up at BMO, the legal and regulatory compliance functions sit together within the same group, which means that I work extensively with lawyers, day-in and day-out.”
The program delivered on its promise, according to Thornton, who was particularly pleased by the flexibility she was given to craft her own curriculum via elective courses from both within and outside of her financial law specialization.
“I took a course on Compliance in the Financial Services Sector that was right in my wheelhouse for work and there was another where I was able to write a major research paper on some of the compliance failures that led to a price-fixing controversy in the market for gold,” she says.
Since her 2022 graduation, Thornton says she constantly feels the benefits of her Osgoode studies back in her professional setting.
“It’s not just the specific knowledge that you pick up in the LLM; it’s more organic than that,” Thornton explains. “The LLM forces you to refresh your skills, so your writing improves, your communication improves and so do many other aspects of your work.”
Thornton says others without a legal background should not be scared to follow in her footsteps and pursue their own financial law degree.
“As long as it is something that really interests you, you shouldn’t let the fact that it’s an LLM intimidate you,” she says. “I found it to be an extremely positive experience.”
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