Pro Bono Students Canada

Charmaine Panko – Lawyer Supervisor

Charmaine Panko, Associate with Miller Thomson in Saskatoon and volunteer lawyer supervisor for PBSC.

Charmaine Panko, Associate with Miller Thomson in Saskatoon and volunteer lawyer supervisor for PBSC.

It’s hard to imagine how Charmaine Panko, associate with Miller Thomson in Saskatoon and mother of eleven children, finds time to give back to the community.  But give back she does – in spades.

In addition to volunteering as a lawyer supervisor for Pro Bono Students Canada projects at the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan, Charmaine works with the Canadian Bar Association’s student mentoring program, and is on the Children’s Advocate pro bono roster.  In 2011, Charmaine was the deserving recipient of the 2011 Lexpert Zenith “Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Award” for her work with the community, including PBSC.

Perhaps Charmaine’s commitment to pro bono comes from getting a taste of it as a law school. While studying law at the University of Saskatchewan, she became involved with the Faculty’s new and burgeoning PBSC chapter. “PBSC is great,” Charmaine states, “because the program does the work of setting up manageable and interesting opportunities for students, and then takes on the role of overseeing and trouble-shooting the placements.”

Charmaine remained committed to her involvement in pro bono even after she started practicing as a collaborative lawyer, mediator and trainer.  In our interview with her, she noted that this experience is not uncommon.  Pro bono work “is a breath of fresh air,” she says. “It helps students take what they’re learning in the class and apply it to a real person with a real face for a real reason”.  Best of all, through PBSC you can do all of this in a supportive, supervised context, “before you’re out there on your own.”

Charmaine supports PBSC’s efforts to expose generations of law students to the pro bono ethic during the early days of their careers: “If you’re committed to the pro bono movement and you have experienced it in a real way,” she explains, “you’re less likely to abandon your values upon graduation.  Then, no matter what law firm you go to, you can positively influence that firm’s culture.”  She encourages all students to take advantage of PBSC and other clinical and public interest opportunities: “Law students can do an entire degree without any exposure to the real life practice of law, then have to make the huge leap from academia to practice.  The exposure PBSC provides to real practice is invaluable in making that leap less terrifying.”

When we asked Charmaine directly how she manages to find the time to raise a family of 11, run a thriving law practice, and do pro bono, she states in no uncertain terms: “No matter how busy you are, there is a way for you to fit pro bono into your practice, and it’s critical that you do so.  It gives you perspective.”