Right to Legal Services

The state has recognized that persons with psychiatric disabilities have the right to legal services to protect their rights. This was the fundamental premise in Doe v. Hogan (link) which established the Connecticut Legal Rights Project. This does not establish an entitlement to representation on all matters, but CLRP’s legal services must be directed to priority matters based on limited resources (See CLRP Background). It was reinforced in the decision in Phoebe G. v. Solnit which upheld CLRP’s right to represent a DMHAS client even if the client’s conservator objected to the representation.

DMHAS clients must be notified of CLRP’s services when they are admitted to an inpatient facility. There are important differences between legal representation and advocacy services provided by non-lawyers.

However, there are limits on a lay advocate’s (non-lawyers not supervised by an attorney) expertise and authority. Practicing law without a license in Connecticut is a criminal offense. Persons who violate it could be prosecuted. Just as important, they could cause harm to someone they are trying to help.

It is essential that lay advocates understand these limits and understand when issues should be referred to legal professionals.

While it can sometimes be difficult to draw a clear line between advocacy and legal advice, there are some fundamental guidelines that should be followed in order to avoid the unauthorized practice of law and to provide the best service to persons being assisted.