Mental Health Pro Bono Program

Each 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 will experience a severe mental health episode each year. 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 Mental Health Pro Bono Pilot Program will provide much-needed assistance to families struggling to get legal help for their loves ones during and after a severe mental health episode. As a pro bono volunteer, you will work directly with families, offering them vitally important information about their legal options ranging from guardianship to involuntary inpatient commitment. By simply explaining the available legal remedies and how to pursue the best one for a family’s desired goals, you can give help that is limited in nature but significant in impact. You can empower a family to more quickly and effectively get the help they need for a loved one in crisis.

Getting started is simple:

  1. Learn more. Attend the April 9 CBA training Empowering Families Affected by Mental Illness through Illinois Civil Law. At this training, you will learn how to help a family navigate the many choices and procedural steps involved in getting much-needed help for a loved one. Attendees will receive three hours of Professional Responsibility CLE credit.
  2. Sign up to be a volunteer. Volunteers can set their own schedules. You can agree to take one case a month, one case a quarter, or one case a year. The estimated time commitment for one client is six hours or less. Your pro bono service will include an initial consultation and, at your discretion, follow-up calls or document preparation assistance.
  3. Get an assignment. Clients will be assigned to volunteers on a rotating basis. For each family, you will set a time to meet (in-person or by phone) to learn more about their situation and goals. Using the provided volunteer outline, you will walk them through their options, help them choose the best one based on their preferences and goals, and explain the steps they must take to pursue that goal (including making sure they have the right paperwork to file with the court).
  4. Make a difference. For each family you work with, you can make a difference by demystifying the court process and helping them get their loved one started on a path to stability. Helping a loved one in crisis can be a frustrating, scary, and difficult process. As a pro bono attorney, you can reduce some of the stress and fear so that the family can focus their time and energy on supporting their loved one.
  5. Continue learning. Experts from legal aid providers and the private bar will be available to answer your questions and support you during your pro bono work. Training materials, including checklists and outlines, are available for your reference. Malpractice insurance will be provided to all volunteers.

To learn more about the pro bono opportunity, please contact Tom Wendt at the Center for Disability and Elder Law at twendt@cdelaw.org or (312) 376-1882. To sign-up for the April 9 training, please visit www.chicagobar.org or contact snazem@chicagobar.org for more information.