by Tony Vidler
An odd question perhaps…however I have been questioned on whether pro bono work carries some lesser responsibility on the part of an adviser. My answer: Why would pro bono clients deserve any lesser standards of ethical behaviour, professional competency or application of skill?
Furthermore; why would any adviser risk compromising their own reputation and professional standing by delivering sub-standard work or taking shortcuts when doing pro bono work?
Logically the answer must be “of course there is not a lesser standard”. A client is a client, regardless of the fee level in the engagement….even if that fee level is “zero”. A client is entitled to the same levels of professional care, diligence and skill that a professional would bring to a commercial engagement.
Ultimately the pro bono concept is about providing a public service, or giving to society some of one’s professional expertise and time. It is a commitment to using ones expertise to improve society by helping those who need it, but could not normally perhaps access professional help.
It cannot follow that pro bono work should be subject to a lower standard of care and diligence than any other professional engagement, as it is still absolutely a professional engagement to act for a client, and to work in their best interests.
Pro bono clients ARE entitled to expect the same behaviour, and are entitled to the same protection – including full legal liability on the part of the adviser – as any other client. Whether the work provided was done for $1,000 per hour, or $100 per hour, or $0 per hour is an irrelevance.
A professional standard is just that: it is a standard regardless of the commercial agreement underpinning it.
Professional standards and ethical expectations placed upon advisers engaging in pro bono work should be consistent, and the same as those applied to commercial engagements.
To do any less brings the ethics of the profession itself into question.