The phrase pro bono - or more specifically, pro bono publico - is one of the most widely used Latin phrases in law which means "for the public good" and it refers to work done for free.  


This pertains to work done on a voluntary basis, and the question remains: what benefit accrues to the volunteer?


When dealing with the phrase pro bono, the question "what's in it for me?" may come across as the most incorrect thing to ask.  


Secondly why would a person volunteer their  services when remuneration could be charged for services rendered. Simply put: why would someone be interested in utilising their expertise, knowlegde and skills  for the benefit of people who are not going to pay? 



While building your mediation practice, it may seem difficult to work for free . Time and financial restrainst such as loss of billable hours, budgetary restraints and the competitive pressures of the business environment can all deter the young mediators from joining pro bono programs. 


Most entrepreneurs don’t do pro bono work they say  pro bono” is Latin for “no way.”  The reasoning is that professionals should not give away their profession.”  We all probably agree with the sentiment  due to the significant amount of time and money it took to establish your mediation practice.  We understand that you provide value and that you should receive value in return. But sometimes free is valuable.


In this article I will attempt to set out good reasons why pro bono work can benefits not just the  recipient, but also the person doing it.


Public Service


First and foremost, pro bono work often benefits members of the public who would not otherwise have been able afford to secure private mediation services. It is very difficult to secure quality mediation in as the court annexed pilot project failed and it is increasingly difficult for courts to meet the public  needs.   The courts cannot effectively meet the public need for assistance due to human resource and budgetary restraints.  The courts simply don’t have the resources to take effectively deal with the sheer volume of cases.  As a result supporters of pro bono services typically focus on the compelling need for assistance.  Therefor pro bono mediations make good moral and ethical sense and thankfully it also makes good business sense.


Community Connections

An important factor when considering pro bono work is to remember that community members who have benefitted from pro bono mediations may refer clients and cases to the practice in the future. Further, pro bono work enhances the  individual mediator or mediation practice’s reputation, both within the court system, legal community and in the public spotlight and strengthens the practice’s ability to attract and serve its private clients.


Gaining Experience and Developing Skills

At the start of one’s mediation career, opportunities to gain experience can be hard to obtain and may require supervision.  Pro Bono oppportunities will give newly trained mediators the opportunity to gain practical experience as they embark on a mediation career.


The practical experience gained gives them an invaluable insight into the South African justice system and developing the sort of client-handling skills which are so useful for a future mediation career while simultaneoously providing the public faced with a daunting court process with much needed assistance. 


There is an old adage that if you want a job done, you should give it to a busy person – they are the people who habitually have the drive and organisation to get things done. Those who commit to pro bono work find themselves developing vital personal organisation and time-management skills.


However, it is not just organisational skills which are developed. Those participating in pro bono projcects develop their skills in legal writing and drafting, hone their interview skills and perform advocacy for mediation as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to the public. 


Pro bono work also hones team working and inter-personal skills.  The experience of organising a team of volunteers and dealing with external agencies can help you develop valuable leadership and organisational skills.  You will be quipped  with a range of skills which are nigh on impossible to develop in the seminar room.  


So it's very clear that pro bono work holds huge benefits in terms of developing important  skills in addition to serving the public good. 


Marketing Value - Building Reputation

Doing pro bono mediations you might discover opportunities you never knew existed.   Remember that you are also marketing your services at the courts and to the public at no costs.  You will get the valuable opportunity to establish your reputation at the courts in the areas that you operate in.  Since mediation field is largely built on reputation this is an invaluable benefit of rendering pro bono services at the courts.


Establishing Professional Relationships and Networking Opportunities

A clear and strong pro bono culture within a mediation practice provides benefits beyond practical training skills. Pro bono activity can build relationships between the mediator and the mediation practice and the relevant clerks and magistrate’s of the respective courts and possibly some of the attorneys operating in these areas.   These relationships can add tremendous value to any mediation practice.


You will also get the opportunity to meet and network with other mediators. You can discuss matters mediated and even develop co-mediation relationships where you can learn from the esperience and styles of other mediator.  This can be seen as further training and skills development.


Advocacy and Promotion of Mediation as an Alternative

Although there is not a Mediation Act that regulates mediation in the South Africa, there are various pieces of legislation which implies or expressly refers to mediation as an alternative dispute resolution  mechanism.  The enforcability of mediation resulting from case  law and increasing number of sectorial regulations that require litigants to consider mediation before going to court is growing.  Public awareness together with legal enforcabilty will promote the profession as a whole.  Pro bono work is a cost effective and efficient manner to contribute to public awareness.


It is this awareness of mediation as a profession and alternative to dispute resolution which will benefit all parties including the individual mediator, the profession as a whole, the public and the justice system. I trust that this article may have sucesfully underlined the benefits for all parties involved as it provides a sense of connectedness and purpose, assuring mediators that their efforts matter, that they make a difference in their communities.


This experience often proves deeply satisfying  and add to that a good reputation, marketing oppornunites, growth of mediation practices and the profession as a whole and potential client connections and the benefits of pro bono work are incontrovertible. It therefor urge all our members to participate in pro bono mediation opportunities.


Melanie van Aswegen

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