by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
There are many advantages to having a lawyer on-site at a community mental health clinic, as we do in our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP). The lawyer can develop strong relationships with the clinical staff and better understand the needs of the community. She can develop familiarity with available clinical interventions, and also speed up the process of referrals for legal assistance.
But perhaps the simplest and most rewarding aspect of on-site legal services is the most obvious: In an on-site clinic, there’s a lawyer on-site. Parents who are already there, waiting for their children to finish therapy, can just walk into my office. They often come hand in hand with the clinician who referred them to me.
Yesterday at BeHeLP we hit a record of on-site walk-ins. Three sets of parents came to see me about their legal needs while they waited for their children. We discussed legal issues ranging from special education to immigration to public benefits to tickets and warrants, and more. Several made appointments to return in person next week.
Three walk-in families in one day (in addition to clinician referrals) may not seem like much. Yet in light of our current policy that clients cannot independently refer themselves and must be referred by a clinician, it is something to be proud of. Our system for integrated mental health and legal care feels safe and accessible to families, and it’s working.