Debate: Pro Bono Work

Debate: Pro Bono Work

Pro Bono, a Latin Phrase which translates to “for the good,” implies working for free.  Frequently, lawyers are required to perform a certain amount of pro bono work per year.  The idea ensures that those who otherwise cannot afford top-notch legal representation can still have some chance of getting it.

In business, we’ve re-purposed the idea of pro bono work.  Not everyone agrees on it’s efficacy, particularly for start ups and consultants.  Both camps have their merits, let’s explore them.

Pro Pro-Bono

Those in favor of engaging free work from time to time list a number of credible reasons.

  1. Ethical:  By offering Pro-Bono work, you may be able to help Non-Profits or charitable organizations with high-end skills that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.  Beyond the squeaky clean feeling of doing good works, this positively influences your personal and professional brand.
  2. Branding:  Again, gaining a reputation for occasionally doing free work may – counter intuitively – drive some business your way.  People may come to you, knowing you sometimes offer free work giving you an option to up-sell to a fee.  Once they realize the value of your services, they may be willing to pay.
  3. Experience:  If you’re just starting out, offering to do some free work might just be the ultimate form of hustle.  You show you are competent and up sell the next project.  Follow the Pareto principal and find a way to gain a little extra on the completed project.

Against Pro-Bono

There are those, however, who disagree with them.  Here are some of their thoughts.

  1. Ethical:  Some would posit that ethics don’t have to be the concern of companies, or that they can find ways to leverage their company in a profitable way and still remain ethical.  Some businesses might actually do more good if they can find ways to make it profitable.   Incentives can drive ethics.
  2. Branding:  On the other hand, showing that you give away free work might start to build a reputation for…doing just that.  Free work limits business.  You could be doing something more useful with your time like trying to obtain new clients or even taking some time off.
  3. Experience:  Of course you can’t deny that free work gains you experience.  The American industry of Interns exploits that every day.  But Experience can also mean getting used by someone who has no intention of following through on other projects.

In the end, no one is 100% right.  It comes down to your personal perception, since we can always find ways to justify any behavior.  Go ahead and choose a side, or change your opinion on a case by case basis.

Thoughts?  Who has experience with Pro Bono work?  Who refuses to do it?

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2 thoughts on “Debate: Pro Bono Work

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