With the Florida Lawyers Helpline, the emphasis is on ‘help’
The new Member Benefit is completely confidential and no information about individual clients will ever be shared with The Florida Bar
The Florida Lawyers Helpline, the newest Florida Bar member benefit, is called a “help” line for an important reason, says one of the professionals who worked to create it.
“It’s all about perception,” said Lisa Hardy, vice president of clinical operations for CorpCare Associates, Inc., the Atlanta-based provider.
More than a traditional hotline, Florida Lawyers Helpline 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, Hardy said.
Hardy stresses that the service is completely confidential and that no information about individual clients will ever be shared with employers or The Florida Bar and the service is available at no cost to eligible Bar members.
The masters-level professionals who answer the helpline work for CorpCare and perform a “triage” that begins with questions to determine if there is a crisis, Hardy said.
Helpline counselors will ask for the caller’s name and address, but that is only to locate the closest and most appropriate service or counselor, Hardy said.
“We are an outside organization, we have been in business since 1991 doing EAP, or employee assistance programs, which this is like,” Hardy said. “It’s a benefit that organizations buy and provide to their employees, so whether you’re a lawyer, a factory worker, a city worker, [we] care about your confidentiality.”
Some callers inevitably express a concern about being labeled with a mental-health diagnosis, but Hardy stresses that’s not what CorpCare counselors who answer the helpline are there to do.
“We don’t deal in DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) diagnoses and we’re not an insurance firm, we don’t keep that kind of billing code,” she said.
Since May 1, Florida Bar members have been able to dial 833-FL1-WELL (833-351-9355) and speak with a CorpCare professional who is trained to provide crisis intervention and referral for up to three free visits with a locally based, licensed mental-health professional. (Please note: This number is not a referral service to find a lawyer or make a complaint against a lawyer.)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, counseling is currently being offered via telehealth therapy, a method CorpCare first employed five years ago, Hardy said.
For that reason, CorpCare was well prepared when the pandemic struck, Hardy said.
“While telehealth is new for a lot of people because they got thrust into it, it’s not new for us,” Hardy said. “There are standards, a counselor can’t just pick up an iPhone and have sessions with a client.”
In-person counseling will resume when it’s safe to do so, Hardy said, and only if a client prefers it.
Not only is telehealth therapy effective, it gives CorpCare the ability to draw from a wider pool of counselors to fit the caller’s preferences, Hardy said. The company boasts 11,000 providers nationwide, including more than 200 within Florida.
CorpCare has years of experience helping lawyers, Hardy said.
The company began contracting with the State Bar of Georgia in 2013. CorpCare began working with the Maryland State Bar Association more recently, she said.
Lynn Garson, chair of the State Bar of Georgia’s Lawyer Assistance Program Committee, has nothing but praise for CorpCare and its counselors.
“They will absolutely go the extra mile to get someone who needs help the help they need,” she said. “They are very, very good, I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
The biggest challenge for the Georgia program is awareness, Garson said. Georgia appellate judges recently agreed to promote the helpline at all of their public events, Garson said.
When she promotes the service, Garson said she always stresses its confidential nature. Some lawyers, usually senior ones, are unnecessarily concerned that their confidential information will be used for disciplinary purposes.
“When I do public events, which is often, I say that I will prostrate myself before you on the floor and swear that this is confidential,” Garson said. “CorpCare is on the side of the angels.”
Hardy is hoping that the current health crisis will make Florida lawyers, and CorpCare clients nationwide, more comfortable picking up the phone and asking for help.
“What we’re going through right now is a shared experience,” she said. “They might discover that it’s not really the pandemic that is troubling them.”
Hardy hopes that Florida lawyers will understand that the service isn’t limited to crisis intervention. Counselors help with a wide variety of life challenges, she said, such as sorting out pre-marital issues, concerns about blending a family, or even if the usual Sunday night anxiety about the Monday morning routine begins to turn to dread.
“Think pro-active,” she said. “If they would use a service like us, it is a wonderful opportunity — normalize it.”