Criminal defense attorneys often represent their clients when they are at their most vulnerable, facing an extremely stressful and often overwhelming investigation or prosecution. As lawyers, we focus on facts and the law, but as defense counsel, we must also focus on the mental and physical well-being of our clients. Our partner Stephanie Benecchi recently addressed the ethical issues arising out of representing clients at risk for self-harm in an article, "Ethical Considerations in Representing Clients at Risk of Suicide," published in the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' For The Defense magazine.
In the article, Stephanie examines questions relating to privilege and confidentiality, competency, and the dilemma facing a lawyer considering whether a client's risk of self-harm presents the need for an immediate referral to treatment. Regarding the latter question, Stephanie writes:
Ultimately, the decision whether to disclose is a deeply personal one, depending on the unique relationship between each client and attorney. My hope is that the information here will empower some of you to discuss treatment options with your client in a way which helps your client assess the risks and benefits of and access to mental health services.
Neither you, as lawyer, nor your client facing criminal investigation or prosecution, is alone. There are resources and guidance to assist you to help protect your client's legal rights and, most importantly, physical and mental health.
If you are thinking about suicide or in need of support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to all at 800-273-8255 or chat online. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Pennsylvania is also available to provide confidential services, support, and information to Pennsylvania lawyers, judges, their family members, at law students at 888-999-1941. The ABA maintains a Directory of Lawyer Assistance Programs throughout the country.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.