Mississauga lawyer Bonnie Yagar awarded the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award

Bonnie Yagar is not your typical lawyer.

“I don’t fit the mold of how many hours I’m supposed to commit to office work,” the senior associate at the Mississauga law firm Pallett Valo LLP told YourMississaugaBiz.com. “And I never have.”

That’s because the 66-year-old Mississauga resident is committed to setting aside weekends for her family and volunteering in the local community.

After more than 15 years of working with local charity Community Living Mississauga (CLM), Yagar was named the city’s Citizen of the Year in 2008 and was recently awarded the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award.

Yagar even helped inspire a change in the corporate culture at Pallett Valo. “When I first joined, there was not a lot of volunteer stuff,” she said. “At this point, they encourage every lawyer who joins the firm to volunteer in some aspect in the community.”

It was actually her work with CLM that helped Yagar develop one of her professional specialties: assisting families that have children with disabilities with their estate planning.

Yagar said it’s ironic someone initially recommended she go into business promotion.

“I’ve built up a significant area of expertise and a large source of my practice,” she said, estimating the specialized estate planning at 40 per cent of her work.

One of Yagar’s coworkers at Pallett Valo has also gotten involved with CLM and become a specialist in the same area of law.

But Yagar said the connection between volunteering and her legal career was never intentional. “There’s very much a need for it, but the community involvement is there because it’s the right thing to do and the work flows from it,” she said, noting her years as president of CLM’s board of directors.

It’s definitely a long way from Yagar’s first job in a law firm at the age of 17.

But it wasn’t until she was 43 that she enrolled in Western University’s law school with three young kids in tow, including twins, despite Grade 12 being her highest level of education.

Yagar said the experience helped her learn how to compartmentalize her life and set limits to when she was at work. “When I’m not the office, I’m not at the office,” she said, noting her rigid resistance to checking voicemail or email. “You have to have family time, community time and work time. I’m committed to each of them, but in the boxes.”

Yagar said her policy was in place even when she was an articling student. As a result, she estimated she’s only worked one Saturday in her professional career.

But after working at Pallett Valo since 1999, Yagar plans to retire in December of next year. “I’m old, so it’s time,” she said, citing plans spend time with her 75-year-old husband, travel, work on her cottage and more community work.

As for her legacy, Yagar’s answer is simple: “God willing, my children will give me grand babies.”

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