Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Pro Bono NOT Volunteering

Looks like I pushed a few buttons with my recent post, Making Money as a Mediator, on June 22nd.

Basically, what I said is that we are dooming ourselves as a profession by giving away our services so freely.

Many folks agreed. Bruce Ross, a New Mexico mediator, wrote to me to share his thoughts. He thinks that our terminology is hindering us. We say volunteer when we might be better served by saying pro bono as lawyers do. Here's a snippet of Bruce's note (the emphasis is his):

    I realized language is part of the problem. That bothered me. When a lawyer provides PRO BONO services, it means the lawyer has chosen not to charge a client for some, or all of a bill for various reasons. You don't hear that lawyers VOLUNTEERED.

    Likewise for mediators. If I chose not to charge someone, I am providing a PRO BONO service. I'm not volunteering. There is a MAJOR DISTINCTION TO BE MADE. For example; If, as a member of a non-profit, I am asked to collect tickets at the door of an event, I'm volunteering. That's because I'm not a "professional ticket taker", and I do not derive my income from that job. I AM A VOLUNTEER. When I don't charge for professional services that are my livelihood, I am providing those services PRO BONO. We all understand the difference when we stop to think about it.

    In the presence of those teaching mediation, students of mediation, colleagues and just about any conversation that arises about mediation, I make it a point to correct people when they use the word VOLUNTEER. I get some interesting looks and comments from, ", I never thought of that..." or
    yea, that's right."

I couldn't agree more, Bruce. Interesting how mediators are thoughtful about the language they use with parties but not so thoughtful about the language we use to describe ourselves and our livelihood. I also want to talk about how to make a pro bono policy in the next couple of posts so stay tuned.

Try. Fail. Learn. Grow.


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Thanks to everyone who took the time to write to me personally. Because this is the kind of conversation that I want to happen on a larger scale, I'm working to add a discussion group or bulletin board to soon.


At 6:17 PM, Blogger Kathy Vaughan said...

I direct a community dispute resolution center in New York State where there is a strong history of community mediation. As mediation programs in NY, especially court-annexed ones, have developed some have questioned the qualifications of "volunteer mediators." For this reason, for the past two years, I have been explicit in referring to my pool of neutrals as pro bono mediators.

While skills may vary from mediator to mediator, an enormous amount of time and effort is put into their practice and we strive to continuously assess performance and build/maintain skills and competency. In fact, in New York State, the community standards for mediation are higher than that for some of the court-annexed program. More than eight years ago, I took a 30 plus hour training course then participated in a 150 hour apprenticeship before I was deemed competent enough to mediate on my own. If I was an attorney with a particular content expertise, in some courts, I would only need a 12 hour training and no skill assesment to join the roster.

One thing I do is include in our "Facts at a Glance" sheet the number of pro-bono hours provided to the community and how much that service costs.


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