Academics: Professional Training

Mental Health Law Clinic

Adjunct Professors claire curry, Alex Gulotta and Nathan J.D. Veldhuis; 8 Credits

Students in this yearlong clinic represent mentally ill or mentally disabled clients in negotiations, administrative hearings and court proceedings (to the extent permitted by law) on a variety of legal matters, including conditions of institutionalization, disability benefits claims, disability discrimination claims, access to housing, and access to mental health or rehabilitative services.

Students also address systemic issues related to the provision of community-based services, the rights of the institutionalized, and the interface between the civil justice and criminal justice systems.

Instruction in the substantive law of these areas will be provided in a classroom component throughout the clinic as dictated by the needs of the clients. The classroom component provides a forum for students to learn mental health and disability law pertinent to the cases they are handling, as well as for the discussion of practice and ethical issues arising in those cases. Topics relating to the nature of psychiatric diagnosis and mental disorders, client competence and surrogate decision-making for incompetent clients and the relationship between the criminal and civil justice systems also are addressed.

Under the supervision of an attorney, students directly perform all the lawyerly functions associated with their cases, including client and witness interviews, factual development, legal research, preparation of documents and pleadings, and negotiation and advocacy in administrative forums and courts. Students meet weekly with the supervising attorney to receive case supervision, along with instruction concerning client interviewing and counseling, negotiation and case preparation. The supervising attorney accompanies each student to all administrative proceedings and court appearances. In addition to representing individual clients, students have the opportunity to engage in mental health advocacy at a systemic level, which may involve policy analysis and the development of policy proposals or proposed legislation, class-action litigation or advocacy work with community agencies. Students enrolled in the clinic are encouraged, but not required, to enroll in the Mental Health Law course.

This clinic is offered in conjunction with the Legal Aid Justice Center. Students earn 8 credits — 3 in the fall and 5 in the spring.