Clients and Suicide: The Lawyer’s Dilemma, by Ken Strutin, LLRX.com
Imagine representing Socrates and then learning that he was planning to take hemlock, what should counsel have done?1 It is a question that would have perplexed the wisest of his time and ours.2 Add twenty-four centuries and the issues are all the more complicated.3
Mental health challenges abound in many precincts of modern society, including the practice of law,4 the prosecution and punishment of crime5 and the representation of clients.6 The stress of prosecution or litigation, whether it means risking a prison term, unemployment, bankruptcy, eviction, broken family relations, isolation, or other serious consequences can create or exacerbate a vulnerable and dangerous state of mind in a client.
Client suicidal thoughts, attempts or actions expose the intimacies of human autonomy and test the limits of the attorney-client relationship. They cross a range of legal, moral and medical contexts: professional responsibility, client confidentiality, effective assistance of counsel, legal malpractice, criminal liability, and end of life issues. So it is that attorneys confronted with signs of suicidal intentions in their clients need to be conscious of their legal and ethical responsibilities.7
This article collects notable materials on this complex and sensitive topic, including ethics opinions, law reviews, bibliographies and other resources. . . .
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