With honours

Osgoode Hall Associate Professor Poonam Puri's passion for securities law earned her academic accolades and international engagements
Osgoode Hall Associate Professor Poonam Puri's passion for securities law earned her academic accolades and international engagements

In Associate Professor Poonam Puri’s home office, three young girls can often be found studiously colouring together while their mother prepares an upcoming lecture on corporate securities law for her students at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Prof. Poonam PuriPuri’s daughters — the eldest is almost six — are used to accompanying their mom while she works. This past summer, “work” meant playing on the beaches of Italy while Puri taught a course in Prato, just outside Florence. She took a break on the island of Elba to talk about her career so far.

Puri knew early on she wanted to be a lawyer, after moving to Toronto from New Delhi with her family when she was three.

“My parents had a title-searching business, so I spent many summers in the Toronto Registry Office, doing 40-year searches and closings,” she remembers. “It may not sound very inspiring in terms of choosing a career path, but it was my first real interaction with the law and lawyers.”

Her parents weren’t pleased, she adds.  They wanted her to be a doctor.

“My parents tried to dissuade me from law school by suggesting that there are ‘too many lawyers.’ My own belief is that numbers don’t necessarily matter — if you are passionate about something, you will succeed,” she says.

Opting out of a commerce degree after two years, Puri studied law at the University of Toronto, graduating with the silver medal.  After articling at Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington (now Torys LLP) in Toronto and completing a summer stint with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York, Puri did her masters degree in law at Harvard. Then the phone rang.

The then-25-year-old was understandably nervous when she accepted the offer to join the faculty at Osgoode as an assistant professor teaching corporate governance and business associations. That she would be barely older than her future students also gave her pause. But she realized that this opportunity was too exciting to pass up. “I knew that being a professor would allow me to teach and do research on areas of law that most interested me,” Puri said.

Puri, now 36, joined Osgoode in 1997 — a time when profs weren’t required to have their doctorate. Good thing, says Puri, who doesn’t see a Ph.D in her future. For one thing, she’s too busy to start one. Among her many appointments, she is co-Research Director of the Expert Panel on Securities Regulation, looking for ways to improve securities regulation in Canada. She is also completing a term as the president of the Canadian Law and Economics Association. In 2004, her work took her to Nigeria to advise the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation on a project to revitalize local bond and debt markets.

Puri uses her experiences in the field to help her students think through problems for which there are no precedents.
“My students never cease to amaze me,” she beams. “Just when you think you’ve thought through an issue, you have a student make a comment or ask a question that makes you re-interpret your theory. And that always happens.”

Puri’s engaging teaching style and dedication to her students earned her an excellence in teaching award after only two years of teaching. Former student Michelle Simard praises Puri’s genuine respect for those she teaches.

“She loves the students, and wants to make an impact on the next generation of securities law,” says Simard.

Photography by Gill Alkin