2012 – Laurel Spahn

Laurel SpahnFor over 20 years, Laurel Spahn has worked to protect and empower people with mental illness. As a lawyer at the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, Laurel represents individuals facing involuntary civil commitment or forced treatment in mental health proceedings. She advocates tirelessly on behalf of her clients, ensuring that their rights are protected and their voices are heard. She also works to address the many systemic issues that impact this critical area of practice.

Laurel practices outside of the spotlight in a highly specialized and little understood area of law, making her contributions especially important. Her record is impressive: in addition to her trial work, she has argued before every appellate district in Illinois and before the Illinois Supreme Court. Moreover, she regularly makes presentations on these issues for local and national audiences. She is regarded as a leading advocate for incorporating therapeutic jurisprudence into mental health proceedings, challenging both advocates and institutions to reconsider the impact of civil commitment on persons with mental illness. She also always makes time to teach and mentor other attorneys on these issues.

Laurel is a skilled and zealous advocate. As one of her nominators notes, she “takes her clients as they come, showing kindness and patience to each new acquaintance and presenting a steady and skilled demeanor to the judges and practioners involved in all of her cases.” Laurel regularly goes beyond the requirements of her court appointments, advocating for clients long after their cases have been closed. As one client aptly put it, “she has been my inspiration, guidance [and] counselor.”

With humility and tireless dedication Laurel steadfastly advocates for people with mental illness. We honor Laurel this year because, as stated by one of her nominators, her work shows that “there are some in our profession who quietly and tenaciously make a difference in the lives of desperate clients, one person at a time.”