The Bar CARES

June 22, 2009

By Douglas J. Brocker

Can’t seem to find enough time to meet all the client and other demands at work? Is trying to juggle all your responsibilities at home and work making you feel overwhelmed? Alternatively, have the current economic times left you without a job or with little legal work to do? Has the recent economic downturn caused you financial difficulties or challenges? Are you considering a job or career change? Are you having trouble with relationships at home, including with your spouse or children? Is a family member or another member of the Bar struggling with these issues? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the Tenth Judicial District Bar (Tenth), Wake County Bar Association (WCBA) and the State Bar have programs that can help.

The BarCARES Program has been operating in Wake County for almost 15 years. The statewide program began as a pilot in Wake County and arose from a survey by the North Carolina Bar Association’s Quality of Life Committee in the early 1990s. The Program name stands for Confidential Attorney Resource and Enrichment Services. BarCARES provides services to all members of the Tenth. BarCARES also provides services to families of WCBA members. The services cannot be provided to families of attorneys who are only members of the Tenth because of state laws regarding the use of mandatory bar dues.

BarCARES is a short-term intervention program offered at no additional cost to members. The Program provides confidential assistance and solution-oriented counseling for various personal, family and work-related issues. These issues include, but certainly are not limited to: depression and anxiety, substance abuse, crisis intervention, financial concerns, career counseling, job loss or dissatisfaction, professional and work related stressors, professional conflict resolution, and marriage, relationship, children and parenting issues, among various others. The Program certainly is not limited to counseling for diagnosed psychological conditions.

Several of the statistics about use of the Program among our members are noteworthy. First, BarCARES experienced a 35% increase in usage among WCBA and Tenth members in 2008. It was the first significant increase in usage since at least 2000. Second, there was a significant increase in repeat users from previous years. The deteriorating economic conditions last year likely were a significant factor in these increases. Third, usage of the program was roughly equal between genders. Finally, over 90% of the initial referrals to the Program were attorneys, meaning that the family services component for WCBA members almost certainly is significantly underutilized.

Among the Tenth and WCBA members using BarCARES in 2008, Program utilization statistics indicate the following about the types of services sought:

  • approximately 70% reported personal difficulties, such as depression, stress or other psychological distress;
  • almost 40% reported either family or relationship problems;
  • 20% reported work-related difficulties;
  • 15% reported chemical abuse or dependency; and
  • less than 10% sought career reassessment services, which likely means that these services also are underutilized by our members.

The Program is administered by Human Resource Consultants, which has been providing behavioral health care for 40 years in the Triangle area. To access BarCARES, a member simply has to call the Program Coordinator at 1-800-640-0735. The Program will then gather limited information from the member to facilitate locating the most appropriate provider for his or her needs. A 24 hour emergency hotline also is provided. You can find more information about BarCARES at http://www.ncbar.org/about/barCARES/index.aspx.

BarCARES provides up to three free visits a year for all Tenth and WCBA members. If more than three sessions are necessary, the Program will work with members to try to find a counselor who is an approved provider under their group insurance. Perhaps most importantly, participation in BarCARES is strictly confidential. The counselors are licensed professionals bound by their own confidentiality obligations. Although the WCBA and the Tenth fund the Program and monitor its overall operation, they have no access to names or other identifying information of any Program users. The statistics noted above contain no other identifying information when provided to the Tenth and WCBA. Within a given year, the Tenth and WCBA are charged the same amount regardless of how many members utilize BarCARES services so please use it if you think you or a family member could benefit from the wide range of assistance provided.

You Have FRIENDS/PALS

The Lawyer’s Assistance Program (LAP) is a completely separate but complimentary service offered by the North Carolina State Bar. LAP is divided into two arms or outreaches: FRIENDS to address mental health issues and PALS to address alcohol and substance abuse problems. The LAP program is founded on the principle that, as members of a collegial profession, each of us has a responsibility to help other members of the profession. LAP compliments acute medical care, such as that provided by BarCARES, by providing the support of other colleagues that have suffered from or been trained in understanding these conditions.

LAP is directed by several excellent trained professionals but it operates and provides assistance to professionals through the work of its many volunteers. It provides assessment, referral, intervention, education, advocacy, and peer support services. Unlike BarCARES, LAP does not provide counseling services directly. Rather, after doing a thorough evaluation, it directs participants to professionals trained and experienced in addressing the indicated problems or issues. You can contact the Program toll free at 1-877-627-3743. You can find more information about LAP at http://www.nclap.org/.

Like BarCARES, LAP is strictly confidential. Although it was created by the State Bar, it operates independently and is governed by a separate board. Perhaps most importantly to participants and potential participants, LAP is totally separate from the disciplinary function of the State Bar. Pursuant to Rule 1.6 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, all communication and other information received by LAP is protected by the same duty of confidentiality that applies to professional relationships to clients. This confidential information is not shared with any other arm or branch of the State Bar absent written consent of the attorney participant.

Both the BarCARES and LAP programs are valuable resources that provide confidential assistance, free of additional charge to members. These Programs compliment one another in addressing important problems common among many members of the Bar. If you or someone else you know could benefit from utilizing one or both of these Programs, you are urged to contact them. Seeking assistance is not a weakness or flaw. Rather, it is the first step in regaining control of one’s professional and personal life.

Another good reason to proactively seek such assistance is to avoid potential professional disciplinary complaints or action. From concentrating my practice in representing attorneys and other professionals in disciplinary matters, it is obvious to me that a large percentage of complaints arise from an underlying psychological or substance abuse problem of the attorney or other professional. Many of these disciplinary complaints or actions could have been avoided had the attorney or other professional timely sought assistance for these underlying problems. If you believe that you or someone else you know could benefit from the services provided by these Programs, please take advantage of their confidential assistance or encourage another bar or family member to do so. The Bar CARES.