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Legal Ethics of Advising Clients With a Mental Illness


Learn how to protect your client, yourself, and the record when working with clients with a mental illness.

Whenever you deal with clients, there will be those with mental illness. Some of course, are incompetent and require assistance or a guardian or surrogate. Far more will be quite self-sufficient - who are afflicted to various degrees - and mostly undiagnosed. They bring to their lawyers a cornucopia of psychological and psychiatric maladies which affect their understanding, judgment, behavior, and even our ability or desire to work with them. They also may bring additional risks associated with their illness. Fortunately, most of our clients' metal illnesses are minor, and we rely on generalizations and our own experience in diagnosing some of them. Your client was paranoid because she was quick to pay you to make the problem go away but became suspicious of you when the matter dragged on. Your obsessive-compulsive-type client provided you with far more documentation than you needed when you asked but was upset when you didn't use it ALL at the hearing. In this fast-moving topic you will learn tell-tale signs of the most common neuroses and psychoses. You will learn to spot the issues - particularly the ethical issues - that arise when our client's mental status is amiss. Learn how to advise your client when the client clearly needs help. Learn what you may say, what you must say and what you must not say or do in the circumstance. Learn how to protect your client, yourself, and the record - along with your own sanity - when dealing with such challenging clients.



Marc D. Garfinkle

Marc D. Garfinkle

Law Office of Marc Garfinkle

  • In his practice at the Law Office of Marc Garfinkle, the incidence of clients with mental illness is quite high, he represents attorneys and judges; not just any attorney or judge, but those who have issues with their licensing authorities; sometimes their mental illness or defect is what prompted the issues which came to the bar’s attention; other times, the process itself creates, exacerbates, or resurrects tendencies toward depression, paranoia, anxiety, and suicidal ideation
  • His practice is orderly and civil, his clients typically are stressed out, sometimes to the max; he has had two clients take their own lives and there were a few that were ‘talked off the ledge’ as a result of ethics investigations
  • Practicing solo since 1978, now limited to attorney ethics and discipline, Bar Admission
  • Wrote “Solo Contendere: How to Go Directly from Law School into the Practice of Law without Getting a Job” 3rd ed, Solo Contendere Press, 2008, 2103; and “I Wasn’t Myself: Mental Illness and Legal Ethics” NJ Law Journal, April 2015
  • Adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University Law School since 2006
  • Regular columnist: Legal Ethics and Commentary, NJ Law Journal
  • Former Attorney Ethics Investigator and former Chair of the NJ District VB Attorney Ethics Committee

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