Need Help? The Bar Cares

November 23, 2005

Professionalism Committee: David W. Long, Chair

This is another article in a series written by the author about the types of services offered by the voluntary and mandatory bars to provide professional assistance to their members.

Submitted 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? Do you repeatedly have difficulty with a supervisor, co-worker, or subordinate? Are you having trouble with relationships at home, including your spouse or children? If these or other similar issues are interfering with the professional obligations or personal enjoyment of you or someone else you know, the Wake County Bar Association (WCBA) and the State Bar have programs that can be of assistance.

The BarCARES Program has been operating in Wake County for 10 years. The North Carolina Bar Association, through BarCARES of North Carolina, Inc., was instrumental in beginning the pilot Program in Wake County. Up until this year, the Program has been offered only to members of the WCBA and their families. This year BarCARES was expanded to provide the service to all members of the 10th District Bar. The service cannot be provided to family members of the 10th District Bar because of state laws regarding the use of mandatory bar dues.

BarCARES is a short-term intervention program offered at no 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, including alcohol and drugs, crisis intervention, financial and career concerns, professional and work related stressors, professional conflict resolution, marriage, relationship, children and parenting issues, among various others.

For the first two quarters of 2005, over half of the members using BarCARES reported personal difficulties, such as depression, stress or other psychological distress. Over a third reported relationship difficulties. Another third reported work-related difficulties. Almost two thirds were men and almost all were attorneys, rather than spouses or family members. Finally, the number of people using the Program in the first two quarters of 2005 exceeded the total for all of 2004.

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.

BarCARES provides up to three free visits a year. 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 10th District Bar funds the Program and monitors 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.

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 either 1-877-637-3743 or 1-800-720-7257.

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.

Both the BarCARES and LAP programs are valuable resources that provide confidential assistance, free of charge. 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.