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5 Tips for Dealing With Mentally Ill or Impaired Clients

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 12, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Nearly one out of five Americans experiences mental illness at some point in their life, making it likely that, sooner or later, you'll encounter a client with a mental illness or impairment, whether it's a major impairment like dementia, or something more minor, such as moderate depression.

These relationships can be fraught with strategic, legal, and ethical concerns. To help you prepare for these tricky situations, here are five tips, from the FindLaw archives.

1. Assessing Clients for Diminished Capacity

Your juris doctor degree doesn't qualify you to make medical diagnoses, but at some point you may have to consider whether a client has diminished capacity. Since lawyers are required to take protective action when they reasonably believe a client cannot act in his or her own interests and may be harmed, learning to identify diminished capacity is essential to fulfill your ethical requirements.

2. Ethical Concerns When Representing Mentally Ill Clients

When do you need to consider seeking a guardian for mentally ill clients? At what point might it be necessary to sever representation? Here are some introductory answers.

3. An Attorney's Responsibility to Suicidal Clients

Many clients come to you at the darkest moments in their life. If they express thoughts of suicide, what recourse should you pursue? Can you disclose their suicidal intent? Can you ignore it?

4. Mental Health Courts: A Continuing Trend

In an effort to treat mental illness more as a health problem than a penal one, more and more states are creating specialized courts as an alternative to the traditional criminal system. Could these be beneficial for your clients?

5. Addicted Lawyers: How to Treat Them

Mental illness, addiction, and depression aren't just issues for clients. Legal professionals suffer from depression and substance abuse at rates higher than the general population. Thankfully, there are treatment options designed specifically for the legal community.

Have an open position at your law firm? Post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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