Mental Health Pro Bono Program

In any given year, nearly one in five Americans will experience a mental health concern, and countless more will watch a loved one struggle with mental illness.  In Cook County alone, 200,000 residents annually experience severe mental health episodes.  When mental illness strikes, friends and family often struggle to understand the available medical, legal, and supportive services; how they intersect; and how they can be accessed on behalf of a loved one.

The civil legal system offers remedies for family members looking to help a loved one who may pose a danger to him or herself or to others.  However, it can be hard to find information about the many legal options available and to fully understand their respective functions. Many remedies have limitations that may be unknown to family members until far along in the process, leaving them frustrated and no closer to helping their loved one get much-needed help. Early education and access to a pro bono attorneys who understand and can explain the available options within the civil legal system can help families to access legal services on a quicker and easier basis.

That said, most legal problems do not begin and end in the courtroom, and mental health is no exception. Navigating the complex maze of civil mental health laws is an important first step, but individuals affected by mental illness often have many more needs unrelated to the pending case, both legal and non-legal. Episodes of serious mental illness can jeopardize an individual’s housing, employment, and family life. This can leave their friends and family members further struggling to understand how they can help their loved ones access holistic support services to most effectively guide them on the path to recovery.

The Civil Mental Health Pro Bono Program (“Program”) provides much-needed assistance to families struggling to get legal help for their loves ones experiencing severe mental health episodes. The Program connects eligible families with a pro bono attorney who can offer legal information and advice on the different options ranging from guardianship to orders for detention and examination to inpatient commitment hearings. The pro bono attorneys explain the procedural steps necessary to pursue the desired result and share information for referrals to other legal and supportive services as appropriate. The representation will be limited in nature, but significant in impact. 

Volunteer Recruitment:  CDEL and its partners in the Program ecruit experienced attorneys in this area to serve as mentors to newer volunteers.  Mentors will be available to answer periodic questions from pro bono attorneys about their cases. Volunteer recruitment will not be limited to attorneys with experience in mental health law, as training and support will be offered to pro bono attorneys. The Program will accept all licensed attorneys, regardless of level of experience and practice area, if they attend the required training.

To volunteer, please contact CDEL here, or through the Chicagao Bar Foundation/Paladin site, located here.

Periodic free training is available through CDEL's CLE program.  

A link to the latest training is available here.