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By Matthew Maddox / February 20, 2020

Even when the term, “quid pro quo” was first used in the sixteenth century, it was shady.

It referred to an underhanded practice in apothecaries.

Apothecaries were the dark, dusty five-centuries-old version of a CVS pharmacy, but they didn’t carry candy or school supplies.

The quid pro quo business was when they switched one medication for another; sometimes with tragic results.

Latin, Quid Pro Quo, literally means “what for what”, or “something for something”. One of the reasons that the expression isn’t thought of fondly is because it completely rules out a simple act of giving, without the expectation of something In return.

On the other hand, in business or in the practice of law, negotiating the provision of a product or service for the exchange of a product or service is how the world works. We negotiate contracts, purchases and sales, all based upon the exchange of things or services – usually for money.

In fact in federal criminal defense it’s common for defendants to cooperate with the federal government in exchange for anticipated leniency at sentencing. And the fact of the cooperation is put in writing.

But, if you’re a lawyer and you represent a defendant in a criminal prosecution, there’s no negotiating a plea bargain, quid pro quo, with a promise or assurance in a divorce. And negotiating a criminal plea bargain with a promise to an alleged victim’s attorney to pay the victim some money, can put those lawyers in jail.

The more political or legal power behind the negotiating parties, the more dicey quid pro quo type of deals become. Power in itself is a terribly valuable commodity that shouldn’t be traded. The same goes for access to the courts, constitutional rights and due process. Not for sale or barter.

A tell-tale sign of a less-than-above-board quid pro quo is vague or missing terms that are open to multiple interpretations. Danger.

Here’s a good rule of thumb; if you’re negotiating a deal and you or the other party feel ill at ease about putting the terms on paper with absolute black-and-white specificity, then there should be a pretty bad smell in the room.

That smell is your signal to get the heck out.

Bottom line? Stay out of the local apothecary. Insist upon seeing, handling and receiving exactly what you ordered and make sure that you’d be proud to have the deal published in your local news.