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Town Halls expose the stress and isolation associated with practicing during a pandemic

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'None of us believe there should be any shame in getting help for your mental health'

Traci Koster

Feelings of isolation and the accompanying stress of practicing law during a pandemic are recurring themes at the Bar’s Virtual Town Hall forums being held across the state.

Bar President Dori Foster-Morales opens each Town Hall by saying the Bar is focused on assisting its members cope with the pandemic and helping in the profession’s recovery.

Part of that effort includes making members aware of the Bar’s new Florida Lawyers Helpline, which is available 24/7/365 to provide 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. (833-FL1-WELL – 833-351-9355)

Available since May 1, the service is provided through an agreement with CorpCare Associates, Inc., an Atlanta-based firm that boasts a network of 11,000 providers nationwide. It is completely confidential and no information about individual clients will ever be shared with employers or The Florida Bar and the service is available at no cost to Bar members.

“We rolled it out early because we understand that this pandemic is not making life any easier for lawyers who are already under an incredible amount of stress,” Foster-Morales told those listening in to the 13th Circuit’s Town Hall August 11. “None of us believe there should be any shame in getting help for your mental health.”

Thirteenth Circuit Town Hall panelist Traci Koster, president of the Hillsborough County Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, confided that she called the helpline soon after it was launched.

“Pretty much everybody who knows me knows I’m a social butterfly,” said Koster, who practices family law. “I like to be at every event chatting with everybody and hanging out. So, for me, the isolation has certainly been the hardest part . . . and compounded with the practice of law in and of itself and having my kids around all the time and all of those things compounded.”

So Koster called and said the experience “was wonderful.”

“Everything was very smooth and everybody was very professional and helpful,” she said, adding the service provided her names of three counselors in her area and she has been meeting with one periodically via telehealth.

“It is somebody to talk to,” Koster said. “Someone who is not judging me for being stressed out in light of everything that is going on.”

Koster said she hopes more lawyers take advantage of the service, particularly other young lawyers.

“It’s very rare that as lawyers we ever spend an hour of our time talking about ourselves,” Koster said. “It is almost never a thing, so the counseling — if nothing else — it is an hour for me to just talk about myself and to reflect on myself and to have somebody listen.”

Koster added she is open about it and happy to talk with anyone who is interested.

“If you are teetering on the edge, you have absolutely nothing to lose by calling,” Koster said.

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