Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee hears helpline report
The new Florida Lawyers Helpline hasn’t been inundated with calls for assistance, but Bar leaders say they are happy that it’s already on track to meet predicted utilization rates.
A year-long project of the Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee, the helpline was launched two months ahead of schedule in May to help Bar members cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staffed 24/7 by licensed professionals, the helpline (1-833-FL1-HELP) offers access to three free counseling sessions and serves as a gateway to child and elder care, financial counseling, and a host of other services.
From May 1 — October 7, helpline vendor CorpCare reported 133 cases, said committee Chair Carl Schwait.
“I believe that the Bar is very happy,” Schwait told the committee at an October 8 meeting. “We’re pretty excited about those numbers.”
The total may sound less than impressive for a Bar with nearly 110,000 members, Schwait said.
But based on the experience of state bars in Georgia, South Carolina, and Maryland, Florida Bar staff were told to anticipate no more than a 1% utilization rate in the first year, Schwait said.
Christine Bilbrey, the Bar’s senior practice management advisor, said the total number of calls was higher because not every caller is assigned a case number.
Also encouraging, Schwait said, was that 23 of the 133 cases were recent law school graduates.
The Florida Bar extended the service temporarily to some 3,000 recent Florida law school graduates after the pandemic and technical issues with a Florida Board of Bar Examiners software forced repeated delays of the summer bar exam.
“We had a real surge in callers,” after the eligibility expansion was announced, Bilbrey told the committee. “If you are unaware, we opened up the helpline to current Bar applicants.”
Board liaison Wayne Smith asked the committee to study whether helpline eligibility could also be extended to the approximately 4,800 members of the Florida Registered Paralegals program.
“During the [Bar’s] virtual convention this year in June, they held a free CLE, and it turned out to be the highest attended CLE of any during the virtual convention,” Smith said. “They’re subject to many of the same stresses and anxieties that lawyers face.”
Bilbrey promised to look into the matter, but said it might require renegotiating the Bar’s contract with the vendor.
In other committee business, Member Benefits Subcommittee Chair Rich Rivera said the committee hopes to negotiate with a host of providers, including another mental-health counseling service to augment the Florida Lawyers Helpline, a fitness center with a statewide reach, and a food services vendor.
The committee is also working on a redesign of the Bar’s Mental Health and Wellness Center website. which, in addition to information about the Florida Lawyers Helpline, features links to a variety of mental-health and wellness services, including CLE, videos, podcasts, and meditations.
Committee member Nora Bergman said she wanted to add “information funnels” to the top of the page to make it easier to navigate.
“If you’re a stressed-out lawyer, here’s the information for you, if you’re a judge, here’s some information for you,” Bergman said. “It would be a different way to organize information on the page.”