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Legalese 101: Quid Pro Quo

By Jason Beahm on March 08, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We here at FindLaw know that legal jargon can be confusing. We hear people misusing legal words and phrases all the time. So we've decided to help you better understand all the legal phrases tossed around on Law & Order. Here is a new educational series we like to call FindLaw's Legalese 101.

Quid pro quo is a phrase that seems to come up around here quite frequently. It's fun to say and sounds kind of cool, at least in some circles. But like many legal terms, it is often misunderstood. The phrase is Latin, and translates to "this for that," meaning an exchange or trade is being made.

In a political and legal context, it is typically used to indicate the wrongful or illegal exchange or trade of something. For example, quid pro quo harassment occurs when one ties a job benefit directly to an employee doing sexual favors. Quid pro quo harassment is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Quid pro quo is also used in other contexts. Bribery, for example. Suppose a politician makes a deal with a corporation saying "You donate $10 million to my campaign, and I will vote against that bill for you."

This would be illegal as a form of quid pro quo political corruption. Of course the difference in what actually occurs is subtle, as corporations do make large donations and politicians do vote that way at times. The difference is that both parties must be very careful to never say or do anything that overtly indicates that the vote is tied directly to the donation.

So at the end of the day, quid pro quo is "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." And in a lot of contexts, of course, the practice is perfectly legal. You give your girlfriend a massage, she gives you one...nothing wrong with that.

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