The Florida Bar has recently focused increasingly on health and wellness and how struggling lawyers can overcome the stigma that keeps them from asking for help. In this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast from the 2018 Annual Florida Bar Convention, host Christine Bilbrey talks to Judy Rushlow and Molly Paris about Florida Lawyers Assistance Inc. (FLA) and the resources it provides to attorneys with mental health or substance abuse problems. Florida lawyers can find help for any situations, no matter how serious, by calling the hotline.
For lawyers seeking help with wellness issues, call the FLA hotline: 1-800-282-8981
Judy Rushlow, who served as the assistant director of FLA for twenty-two years, was appointed executive director by the Florida Bar Board of Directors in October 2017.
Molly Paris began her work with FLA in September 2017 in the newly and much needed role of outreach coordinator, but transitioned into the assistant director position in October 2017.
The Florida Bar Podcast
2018 Annual Florida Bar Convention: Florida Lawyer Assistance
Intro: Welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, where we highlight the latest trends in law office and law practice management to help you run your law firm, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Christine Bilbrey: Hello and welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by The Practice Resource Institute on Legal Talk Network. This is Christine Bilbrey. I am a Senior Practice Management Advisor at PRI and the host of The Florida Bar Podcast. Today we are recording down at our Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida.
Thank you for joining us today.
So I am excited to welcome two guests to the show. I have just gotten out of a Special Committee meeting on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers and we had two guests at the Committee meeting and they have graciously agreed to do a podcast, because I think this is important information to get to our members.
So I want to welcome Molly Paris and Judy Rushlow, and they are from Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. and we always call that FLA, Inc. around the Bar, but you guys told me that you call yourselves something different.
Molly Paris: Yes, F-L-A.
Christine Bilbrey: F-L-A, okay.
Judy Rushlow: But we answer to almost anything.
Christine Bilbrey: Great. Judy, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at FLA.
Judy Rushlow: Well, I am the Executive Director. I was formerly the Assistant Director for 22 years. So I have just been in this position for about six months. We assist attorneys who have substance abuse or mental health problems that usually are bordering on or are truly in a state of impairment.
We are a not-for-profit corporation. We have been around for over 30 years and we are trying to get more and more involved in the Florida Bar’s initiative on wellness, which is very, very important to us.
We take calls from lawyers, we have a hotline, we try to direct them to the kind of treatment and help that they need. We monitor them. We kind of try to be all things to all people, but it’s not an easy job, but it’s very gratifying.
Christine Bilbrey: And Molly, tell us a little bit about yourself because you are newer to Florida Lawyers Assistance.
Molly Paris: I am. First of all, thank you so much for having us. This is a really important message to get out to Florida lawyers. And I am new to Florida Lawyers Assistance. As far as working there, I started in September of 2017, but I actually 10 years ago was a FLA client. I was struggling with my drinking and I was an Illinois attorney and I moved to Florida and I went to treatment and I got sober and my counselor there recommended that I call FLA and ask for help and be around other attorneys that were in recovery, and so that’s what I did.
So I was a client and then I was a volunteer for FLA for quite a few years. So while I am new to being employed, I am not new to the organization at all. So it was something very close to my heart.
I was initially hired to be the Outreach Coordinator. One of the sort of myths that we are trying to dispel is that we are not just for drunk lawyers. I mean we do fortunately help with that too, but to get the word out there that we address mental health issues and that people can come to us voluntarily. So I was hired as the Outreach Coordinator and then once Judy moved up to Executive Director, I took her position; however, I am still doing the outreach work and so I have sort of a dual role now.
And what I do, I work with the clients individually, like Judy does, and then I also travel around to various Bar Associations, law schools, public defender’s offices, law firms. So I have been there about seven months.
I actually blew out the transmission on my jeep, even though it’s only a 2016 jeep, but there is a lot of work to be done. There are 13 law schools in Florida. I have been to a little more than — almost all of them, and we are just really, really trying to get the word out that we are here and that we are available.
So it’s been great. It’s been a great couple of months so far at FLA.
Christine Bilbrey: Well, and I brought you both up here for very specific reason. I am the Bar staff person for what was the Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness. So we have spent the past year trying to get the word out. We are working on destigmatizing the issue, coming up with new resources to help our attorneys, because we know from the Hazelden Study that this is a group of people that are struggling with depression, a lot of stress, a lot of mental illness and so we feel that the Florida Bar should step in because this is very specific to our profession.
And so you joined us today and there is a lot of myths about Florida Lawyers Assistance, because when we are telling people to get help, a lot of people will not contact you because they believe that we, the Bar, will know about that, that it will result in discipline or a grievance, that it’s going to harm their career.
And so I always thought that if they reached out to you, because there is an affiliation with us that they would have to tell you who they were or their Bar number, and so can you talk a little bit about that, if someone is really struggling and they call your number, do they have to identify themselves as who they are or just that they are a Bar member?
Judy Rushlow: Absolutely. No need for them to even identify themselves, no. And it makes it a little difficult for us to document our calls, but we are perfectly happy with entering somebody as an anonymous call from a lawyer struggling with depression or whatever.
Confidentiality is probably our most important motto or mantra, and we have been talking about this for a very long time, but I think it’s just very hard for lawyers to believe. And perhaps that’s because we do a lot of work with the Florida Bar. Florida Bar refers lawyers to us who have found themselves in the disciplinary system and we work with them. We have them evaluated. We make recommendations for treatment, not for discipline, but perhaps that connection gives them pause before they pick up and call.
If we can dispel that belief that we are going to report them or we need to even identify them, we are much more interested in trying to find out how we can help them or how we can point them in the right direction so they can help themselves.
Christine Bilbrey: So if someone calls your number Molly, and they are struggling, and I think typically it may be a whole grouping of issues. So maybe they are self-medicating because they are depressed or their practice isn’t going well, and they reach out to you, they don’t know what kind of help they need. What is your response, how are you going to help them?
Molly Paris: Well, we do help with a wide range of issues. And so as Judy said, if someone comes to us voluntarily, then I first start out by reminding them. This is confidential. There is a statute that protects you and we are exempt from the reporting rule. Judy and I are exempt from the reporting rule.
And depending upon why they call, I will give you a couple of examples, obviously keeping anonymity. I have had — just this past week I had an attorney call and he said I can’t stop drinking. I don’t know what to do. I have never had issues with the Bar. I have never had issues with the legal system, but I am scared for my life.
And we had him actually come in, we spoke to him; luckily he was local and we hooked him up with some other — an attorney support group. He was comfortable doing that. He also was interested in seeing a therapist, so we gave him some referrals and I check in with him every day and say seven days sober, good job, 10 days sober, good job, 30 days sober, good job. It takes us just a few minutes.
And again, that’s the kind of call that’s really music to our ears, because we want people to come to us before they enter the disciplinary system, before they enter the legal system or worse, before they lose their lives.
Now, if someone — that happens to be my particular experience, I am a lawyer, not a clinician, so if someone calls and they say I am having severe anxiety, I am having — I am going through a divorce; again, it doesn’t even have to be a DSM-5 diagnosis, you can be going through something in life that’s not a permanent disability and I am having trouble functioning. We have a Clinical Director on staff, Dr. Scott Weinstein, who is very wonderful to speak to and has a lot of experience working with lawyers. I believe he has been — how long has he been with us, Judy?
Judy Rushlow: About 13 years I think.
Molly Paris: Okay. So if it’s a call that’s more directed to mental health, I would send that person to Scott, and he is three doors down, it’s not like we have a large office. And he could provide a variety of resources, whether it’s one of his groups, an individual therapist, sometimes people want to know where they should go to treatment.
Sometimes people call on behalf of other folks. I am really worried about my partner, I am worried about my associate, I am worried about my opposing counsel, and we reach out to those people. We write them a letter and say, we have heard that people are concerned, please feel free to call us, and often they don’t and sometimes they do.
And again, Judy has the knowledge of many years so she would have a better idea of how often people will respond to that, but that’s the type of help that we can give and that’s the type of help that we want to do — to give more of, people that are not yet in the “system”.
Christine Bilbrey: Right, and I think that’s the distinction that a lot of our members don’t realize that it’s actually a member benefit. So you don’t have to have anything to do with discipline, you don’t have to be referred over to FLMIC, or Florida Lawyers Mutual Assistance, we have so many acronyms.
And so we as a Committee, so now we have a new page on the Florida Bar website, so I want to tell everyone how to find that, if you don’t remember the number after we talk about it later, if you go to HYPERLINK “http://www.floridabar.org” floridabar.org and you hover over Members, you will see that one of the choices is Health and Wellness, and if you click on that, we have made your number, giant in the middle of the page, because we know that if someone is struggling, they don’t want to scroll and look and read through articles. We just want them to get help right away.
And I was encouraged to find out today that that has actually increased the calls that you have been getting on your line. So tell us if you have seen a change in the incoming calls that way, Judy?
Judy Rushlow: It has. Just recently in the last couple of months we have been trying to do a better job of documenting and tracking the cases that are not by referrals. Our database is kind of set up to help us with the monitoring function and the evaluation. So it doesn’t really allow us to track those calls, but we started doing it, and in the last couple of months we have been getting about 30 of those calls a month, or about one a day. One day I had three such calls. It’s starting to make a real difference.
And we also have a new website, which is HYPERLINK “http://www.fla-lap.org” fla-lap.org or you can google Florida Lawyers Assistance. I think sometimes lawyers want to find out what is it that I am calling. So we are pretty proud of the new website that we have and there is a lot of information on there; who we are, what we do, there is a lot of links and referrals to other resources.
But there is also, like on a lot of websites, there is a box there to contact us and we get emails and we are getting a surprising number of contacts that way and maybe that feels even a little more anonymous, but we respond to those, just like we do to everything else.
Christine Bilbrey: That’s great. Maybe that’s less scary, because this is a big step for people.
Judy Rushlow: I think it must be, yeah.
Christine Bilbrey: So tell us your website address again.
Judy Rushlow: Okay, it’s HYPERLINK “www.fla-lap.org” www.fla-lap.org.
Christine Bilbrey: Okay. So going forward in the Committee, so we have tried to — we want people to be more aware of where to get help, and so it was interesting, one of our Committee Members Carl Schwait said, I know that if I have an ethics question I just call up. And it’s funny because I give people that number so much that I know that the Ethics Committee is 800-235-8619, and Carl is like and you will talk to Elizabeth, like people at the Bar know that number, they know who they are going to get.
So I want you to become just like that, because this should be just like the Ethics hotline, it should be that matter of fact. So I want you to tell us your 800 number Molly.
Molly Paris: It’s 800-282-8981.
Christine Bilbrey: Okay, say it again.
Molly Paris: 1-800-282-8981.
Christine Bilbrey: Okay, excellent.
Molly Paris: 1-800-282-8981.
Christine Bilbrey: And I am serious, like that is going to be — I think that it — when it just becomes that perfunctory, like oh, you are having — you have a question about that rule, call Elizabeth at Ethics. Oh, you have had a horrible week and it’s starting to snowball for you, let’s call up Molly or Judy. So that’s the goal.
So I really, really appreciate you coming in today. If they want to find you, can you email or do you have other ways that if our listeners want to contact you, they can reach out to you?
Molly Paris: Absolutely. My email is HYPERLINK “[email protected]%20” [email protected]. And Judy and I both make our cell phones available to people too for any — it doesn’t have to be just between 9 and 5, if people need help, they can call us anytime. So my cell phone number is 305-788-9359, and again, we encourage people to call us whenever they need us.
Christine Bilbrey: Wow. And so I really want to encourage them to call you. You are lovely individuals; you are not scary at all, and I love that you have been there. So I think that’s important, like you have a real credibility on this issue. So thank you so much for coming in and talking to us.
This has been another edition of The Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by The Practice Resource Institute on Legal Talk Network. Thank you to our guests.
If you liked what you heard today, please find and rate us in iTunes. I am Christine Bilbrey. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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