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Helpline assistance extended to Florida Registered Paralegals

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Melissa VanSickle

Melissa VanSickle

Florida Lawyers Helpline eligibility will be expanded to include nearly 5,000 members of the Florida Registered Paralegal Program, the Board of Governors has decided.

Budget Committee Chair Melissa VanSickle urged board members to approve a $3,600 budget amendment that would cover the cost of expanding eligibility for the final six months of FY 2020-2021.

“It’s an important purpose that they are seeking the funds for, and it’s a minimal amount compared to what they’re doing for the organization,” she said.

The board voted unanimously, without discussion, to approve.

The proposal was championed by Wayne Smith, a veteran 16th Circuit representative who serves as board liaison to the Florida Paralegal Enrichment Committee.

Staffed 24/7 by licensed professionals, the confidential Florida Lawyers Helpline (833-FL1-Help) serves as a gateway for a continuum of services — everything from crisis intervention and referral for free mental-health counseling, to providing a case manager to help find long-term care facilities for family members or financial consulting to help members with debt management, budgeting, and retirement planning.

Helpline Homepage logoThe helpline was a year-long project of the Mental Health and Wellness Committee. President Dori Foster-Morales championed the helpline before assuming her current post and continues to stress the importance of destigmatizing mental-health issues.

“It sounds like a great thing to promote mental health and wellness as a priority,” Foster-Morales said after the board agreed to expand the service.

Foster-Morales and former President John Stewart accelerated the launch of the helpline this summer, concerned that Bar members would be dealing with additional stress from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.

The request by the Florida Registered Paralegal Enrichment Committee to expand eligibility is a welcome sign to Bar leaders that the helpline is becoming better known.

At an October meeting, the Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee Chair Carl Schwait said he was encouraged that helpline provider CorpCare reported 133 helpline cases in its first utilization report. Total calls were likely higher because not every call generates a case file, according to Bar staff.

The figure was on track to meet a 1% utilization rate predicted for the first year, Schwait said.

Committee members also learned that 23 of the 133 calls were generated by recent law school graduates. Bar applicants were granted temporary eligibility after the pandemic forced repeated delays in administering the bar exam.

“I believe that the Bar is very happy,” Schwait told the committee at the October 8 meeting. “We’re pretty excited about those numbers.”

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