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1016 Doing Pro Bono Work

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,016 – Doing Pro Bono Work.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,016. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development right here in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download the Learning Guide for this episode. You can also like us on Facebook at facebook.com/eslpod.

This episode is a dialogue between Jack and Claire about doing something called “pro bono” work, where you basically volunteer some of your time to a community organization to do the kind of work that normally you get paid to do. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Claire: Welcome to the firm. Are you getting the hang of things here?

Jack: I am. I worked in another firm for two years before coming here, so I have some experience under my belt. But let me ask you one thing: Is the firm serious about wanting each person to do five hours of pro bono work each month?

Claire: It is. This firm takes community service very seriously. Everyone does pro bono work, and everybody is expected to hit the target of 60 hours each year.

Jack: This is so different from my previous firm. There, everything was about billable hours. Nobody cared about anything but how many hours we could rack up with each client.

Claire: Billable hours are important here, too, but we bill ourselves as the firm with a social conscience. That’s what sets us apart from our competitors. If you fall short of your expected pro bono hours, believe me, you’ll hear about it.

Jack: It’s refreshing to work for a firm that’s not all about the bottom line.

Claire: Don’t get carried away. This firm is still here to make money. It’s just not 100 percent of its focus.

Jack: Maybe just 98 percent?

Claire: That’s right. And in this industry, that’s unheard of.

[end of dialogue]

Our dialogue begins with Claire saying to Jack, “Welcome to the firm.” A “firm” (firm) is another word for a company, usually a company that offers what we might call “professional services.” Lawyers, for example, usually call their companies a “firm.” A firm is a group of lawyers working together to steal your money (just kidding).

Claire welcomes Jack to the firm. He’s obviously a new employee at the firm. Claire says, “Are you getting the hang of things here?” “To get the hang (hang) of” something means to become comfortable doing it, to learn how to do it. She’s asking Jack if he’s figuring out the way things work at this particular law firm.

Jack says, “I am. I worked in another firm for two years before coming here, so I have some experience under my belt.” The phrase “under my belt” (belt) means that you have a certain amount of experience or skills, or that you have done something for a certain amount of time. Your “belt” is the thing that goes around the top of your pants to hold your pants up so they don’t fall down. But the expression “under my belt” just means that I have this experience, I’ve done this sort of thing, or I have these kinds of skills.

Jack says, “But let me ask you one thing. Is the firm serious about wanting each person to do five hours of pro bono work each month?” “Pro (pro) bono (bono)” is doing something that you are normally paid to do for free. So, if you are a doctor and you work at a hospital normally, you might volunteer on the weekend to work at a clinic for poor people. That would be doing pro bono work. It’s what you normally get paid to do, but you’re doing it for free.

At Jack and Claire’s law firm, each lawyer is expected to do five hours each month of pro bono work. In other words, the company expects them to volunteer five hours of their time each month. Claire says the company is very serious about this. She says, “The firm takes,” or considers, “community service very seriously.” “Community service” is time you spend volunteering to help organizations in your community. “To volunteer” (volunteer) is to work without getting paid.

Claire says, “Everyone does pro bono work, and everybody is expected to hit the target of 60 hours each year.” “To hit the target” (target) means to meet a goal, to achieve the amount of something that you are expected to achieve. We often use that word “target” in a business setting when we’re talking about the goals and objectives, especially numerical goals and objectives – when you’re supposed to have a certain number of things done or perhaps a certain amount sold of your product.

Jack says, “This is so different from my previous firm. There” – meaning at his previous firm where he used to work – “everything was about billable hours.” “Billable (billable) hours” is time that you spend working for a customer or a client that you can charge the client for. Lawyers, for example, usually charge by the hour, which means they say, “Well, if it takes me four hours to do this, then I’m going to charge you $100 an hour” – or $200 hundred dollars an hour, or $500 hundred dollars an hour.

Billable hours are the hours you work for someone that you can then bill them for – you can then charge them for. The word “bill” (bill) refers to a demand for someone to pay you a certain amount. If you go to a restaurant, they’ll bring you a bill for your dinner. We also call that, in a restaurant, a “check,” but in the general sense, in other business settings, we would call it a “bill.”

Jack says at his old company, his old firm, “everything was about billable hours,” meaning the only thing that that firm cared about was how much money you made for the firm. “Nobody cared about anything but how many hours we could rack up with each client.” “To rack (rack) up” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to get a large number of something, to increase the amount of something. We often use this phrasal verb in a negative sense when you are getting too much of something that you don’t want.

You could talk about “racking up too much debt” – having too many loans that you need to pay. You could talk about “racking up credit card bills” – having different credit cards and needing to pay money on those credit cards because you’re using them, of course. So, “rack up” can be a positive thing, or it could be a negative thing. It’s often used in a negative way, although here in this sentence it’s a positive thing.

Claire says, “Billable hours are important here, too, but we bill ourselves as the firm with a social conscience.” Claire uses the word “bill” here as a verb, in a somewhat different way than we just heard a few minutes ago. As a verb, “to bill” can mean to charge someone, but it can also mean to characterize yourself or advertise yourself in a certain way, and when it’s used that way, it’s usually followed by the word “as.”

“We’re going to bill ourselves as the best company in Los Angeles.” That’s what we’re going to advertise to people. That’s what we’re going to tell people about ourselves. “He bills himself as the funniest man in Hollywood.” He considers himself – and he tells other people that he is – the funniest man in Hollywood. Not me. I’m not the funniest man in Hollywood. I don’t even work in Hollywood, but that’s another story.

Claire says this law firm bills itself as the “firm with a social conscience.” The term “social conscience” (conscience) refers to realizing, knowing, that you are part of a larger community and that you want to try to help a larger community. A company with a social conscience might, for example, give money to volunteer or charitable organizations in order to help them.

The term “conscience” refers to your ability to recognize right and wrong. When we talk about a “social conscience,” we’re talking about being aware of and helping the community around you. It’s especially popular when talking about businesses nowadays.

Claire says, “That’s what sets us apart from our competitors.” “To set something or someone apart” (apart) means to make yourself unique, to make yourself better than other people, to separate yourself, or we might say, “to differentiate” yourself – to make yourself different from other people. Your “competitors” (competitors) are the other companies in the same kind of work that you are, that are trying to get the same clients that you are.

Claire says, “If you fall short of your expected pro bono hours, believe me, you’ll hear about it.” The expression “to fall short” is a verb meaning to not do as well as you are expected to do. The phrase “believe me” is used to emphasize that what you are saying to this person is true. You may say, for example, “Believe me, I understand your problems.” You are assuring the person that you understand them. You are telling them that “what I am telling you is true.”

You could use this in lots of different circumstances. Whenever you think the person may not believe you or think that you’re telling the truth or are being completely honest, you might use this expression, “believe me.” “Believe me, I really want to go to this show, but I’m busy at home tonight.” Perhaps the person doesn’t believe that you really want to go to this show, so that’s an example of how you would use that particular phrase.

Claire says that “if you fall short of your expected pro bono hours, you’ll hear about it.” When someone says, “You’ll hear about it,” what they really mean is that you are going to be in trouble. Someone is going to yell at you or someone is going to punish you because you did something wrong. Jack says, “It’s refreshing to work for a firm that’s not all about the bottom line.” “Refreshing” (refreshing) means it’s new, it’s interesting. Perhaps it’s exciting, even.

Jack says, “It’s refreshing to work for a firm that’s not all about” – that doesn’t just care about – “the bottom line.” The term “bottom line” refers to how much money the company makes, how “profitable,” we might say, the company is. Claire says, “Don’t get carried away.” That expression, “Don’t get carried away,” means don’t get too excited about something. Don’t take this idea too far. Don’t exaggerate.

She says, “This firm is still here to make money.” Even though the firm has a social conscience and has its lawyers do pro bono work doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to make money. Claire says, “It’s just not 100 percent of its focus.” It’s not what it does 100 percent of the time. Jack then says, “Maybe just 98 percent?” Claire says, “That’s right. And in this industry, that’s unheard of.” If something is “unheard of,” it is not typical. It is not common. It is almost never seen. It’s very rare.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Claire: Welcome to the firm. Are you getting the hang of things here?

Jack: I am. I worked in another firm for two years before coming here, so I have some experience under my belt. But let me ask you one thing: Is the firm serious about wanting each person to do five hours of pro bono work each month?

Claire: It is. This firm takes community service very seriously. Everyone does pro bono work, and everybody is expected to hit the target of 60 hours each year.

Jack: This is so different from my previous firm. There, everything was about billable hours. Nobody cared about anything but how many hours we could rack up with each client.

Claire: Billable hours are important here, too, but we bill ourselves as the firm with a social conscience. That’s what sets us apart from our competitors. If you fall short of your expected pro bono hours, believe me, you’ll hear about it.

Jack: It’s refreshing to work for a firm that’s not all about the bottom line.

Claire: Don’t get carried away. This firm is still here to make money. It’s just not 100 percent of its focus.

Jack: Maybe just 98 percent?

Claire: That’s right. And in this industry, that’s unheard of.

[end of dialogue]

Our scripts are so great because they’re written by someone with hundreds if not thousands of script writing hours under her belt – the one and only Dr. Lucy Tse. Thank you, Lucy.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
firm – a company that offers professional services, especially a company formed by lawyers who offer legal services

* As a law student, Francine got a summer internship with a law firm specializing in family law.

to get the hang of (something) – to learn how to do something and become comfortable doing it

* How long did it take you to get the hang of the new software program?

under (one’s) belt – having a certain amount of experience or skills

* With a few more projects under your belt, you’ll be eligible for a promotion.

pro bono – for the public good, especially providing consulting or legal services for free to people who need them but cannot afford them

* This nonprofit organization depends on pro bono services from attorneys to help immigrants with immigration problems.

community service – time spent volunteering to help others in a community through labor and/or professional services

* Phoebe developed her leadership skills through her community service working with low-income populations.

to hit the target – to meet a goal; to achieve the amount of something that one is expected to achieve

* Brent is trying to lose 50 pounds, and if he can hit the target by June 30, his wife is going to reward him with a trip to Hawaii.

billable hours – time spent working that one can bill to a client at an hourly rate

* Your time spent checking email can be considered billable hours if those emails are related to your client work.

to rack up – to get a large number of something; to increase the amount of something that one has

* The best players are able to rack up thousands of points in this video game.

to bill (oneself) as – to characterize oneself in a particular way; to advertise oneself in a particular way; to present oneself as being a certain way

* The professor bills himself as an expert in corporate finance, but he doesn’t actually have any experience in the business world.

social conscience – knowing that one is part of a larger community and an awareness of how one’s actions affect others, which makes one want to participate in the community and help other people

* If the company had a social conscience, it would not have fired so many workers without warning and without giving them a proper severance pay.

to set (someone or something) apart – to differentiate someone or something from others; to make something unique or better than others

* What sets our swim lessons apart is our policy of small class sizes.

to fall short – to underperform; to not do as well as one is expected to do; to get or earn less than one should have

* If you don’t practice every day, your performance at the next concert will fall short of your teacher’s expectations.

believe me – a phrase used to emphasize one’s words and tell another person to pay attention and trust what one is saying, because it is definitely true

* Believe me, these tickets are worth every penny. The show is fantastic!

to hear about it – to be reprimanded; to have one’s actions be criticized; to receive the negative consequences of one’s actions when someone else becomes aware of what has happened

* If these children are hurt while they’re under your care, you’ll hear about it.

refreshing – new, interesting, and exciting, different from what one normally does

* After working in an office for years, it was refreshing to start a new job that involved working outdoors.

the bottom line – profitability; a company’s ability to make money (have more income than expenses), or the amount of money that it makes

* If we can find a way to increase sales or reduce costs, it will really help the bottom line.

to get carried away – to get too excited about something; to take something to an extreme; to do too much of something; to take an idea too far

* Sure, we can paint the interior, but don’t get carried away with bright colors.

unheard of – extremely uncommon; not typical; not seen or found elsewhere

* Language immersion schools were almost unheard of when I was a child, but now they’re opening all over the country.

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Claire mean when she asks, “Are you getting the hang of things here?”
a) She wants to know if Jack is making friends.
b) She wants to know if Jack has any questions.
c) She wants to know if Jack feels comfortable in his new job.

2. Which of these would contribute to billable hours?
a) Pro bono work
b) Community service
c) Racking up hours with clients

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
firm

The word “firm,” in this podcast, means a company that offers professional services, especially a company formed by lawyers who offer legal services: “Over the past three years, the firm has hired 10 new attorneys.” Or, “How many professional services firms does a typical small business work with?” The word “firm” also means solid, not soft or squishy: “I prefer a sofa with firm cushions so that my back is straight when I’m sitting.” A “firm believer” is someone who has a belief or opinion that will not change: “Grandpa has always been a firm believer that children should be seen, but not heard.” Finally, when talking about contracts or money, “firm” means constant or unchanging, not subject to negotiation: “The price is $45, firm.”

to fall short

In this podcast, the phrase “to fall short” means to underperform or to get or earn less than one should have: “We went to the new restaurant, but the food and service fell short of what was described in the reviews.” The phrase “to fall flat on (one’s) face” means to fail completely: “Even though Gregorio had practiced repeatedly at home, he fell flat on his face in the actual presentation.” The phrase “to fall to pieces” means to break into many pieces or parts: “The old letters were so old that they fell to pieces the moment they were unfolded.” Finally, the phrase “to fall to pieces” also means to stop working properly: “Their marriage is falling to pieces and they’ll probably file for divorce soon.”

Culture Note
The Law Students in Action Project

The Law Students in Action Project (LSAP) is an organized “effort” (attempt to do something) to help “legal professionals” (attorneys; lawyers) better serve their clients, especially their “pro bono clients” (clients receiving services for free) by using the services of “law students” (people who are studying law and plan to become lawyers, but have not yet earned their degree). The law students work without pay, but they gain a lot of experience, especially in helping “underserved” (people who need, but don’t get) populations.

LSAP is “competitive,” meaning that law students must apply for the unpaid positions. LSAP generally “places” (finds positions for) law students in western and central New York, but there are similar programs throughout the country. Students attend a “mandatory” (required) “orientation” (training) at the beginning of the program, but then many of the students work “remotely” (without visiting the office, instead using one’s computer and the Internet to complete work). Some of them volunteer for the program during the school year, but others complete the work during their summer vacation.

The law students who participate in LSAP “gain” (receive; earn) valuable experience providing legal services, as well as “in-depth” (detailed) knowledge about the specific type of law they are “practicing” (working in). These “fields” (areas or types of law) often include consumer rights, immigration issues, family law, farmworker rights, and more. The organization encourages “future lawyers” (people who will be lawyers in the future) to continue to “engage in” (be involved in) pro bono work in their future career.

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - c