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NAMI National Legal Center

A Road Map through the Criminal Justice System for Persons with Mental Illness and Their Family presented by NAMI Massachusetts (PDF)

Know Your Discharge Planning Rights From Massachusetts Licensed Psychiatric Units(PDF) presented by NAMI Massachusetts

NAMI National site with legal referral service, local affiliates and special needs estate planning.

The NAMI Legal Center provides lawyer referrals as a service to our members and the general public. We require attorneys on our Lawyer Referral Panel to complete questionnaires regarding their specialties, fees, education and liability insurance. Communications to the Center remains confidential, as does our attorney information. Are you interested in receiving a general lawyer referral (civil commitment, civil rights, criminal law, family law, health law, insurance, medical malpractice, SSI/SSDI)? Elder Law and Estate Planning Lawyer Referral Panel– Are you interested in obtaining information and/or representation related to Estate Planning for a loved one with mental illness? You may contact the NAMI Legal Center by email or by calling 800-950-6264. Please furnish full name, address with zip code and telephone number to help us find legal aid in your area.

Massachusetts Legal Aid Services

Health Law Advocates (HLA) is a 501(c)(3) public interest law firm whose mission is to provide pro bono legal representation to low-income residents experiencing difficulty accessing or paying for needed medical services. HLA is committed to ensuring universal access to quality health care in Massachusetts, particularly for those who are most at risk due to such factors as race, gender, disability, age, or geographic location. HLA helps individuals to challenge denials of insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and we advocate for the rights of consumers under the mental health parity laws.”

With its partner organization, Health Care For All, HLA combines legal expertise with grassroots organizing and policy reform to advance the statewide movement for universal health care access

How can the Office of Patient Protections & Office Grievances help me? If you have been denied coverage or care from your private or commercial insurer, the Office of Patient Protects may be able to help! Download or view Office of Patient Protections info.

Legal aid services throughout the state. Depending upon your age, income and the kind of legal problem you are having, you may be eligible for free legal help. To find out which legal services programs help people who live in your town, use the Find Legal Aid search– you can search by town or zip code. (These programs cannot help with criminal law problems.)

Mass. Trial Court Law Libraries, Forms etc. for grandparent visitation, healthcare proxy, etc.

Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, providing direct representation to low income children in Eastern Massachusetts, and technical assistance and training to lay and professional communities throughout New England on issues affecting children’s education, civil rights, custody, health and welfare.

Massachusetts Advocates for Children, non-profit organization dedicated to being an independent and effective voice for children who face significant barriers to equal educational and life opportunities. info@massadvocates.org, Phone: 617-357-8431.

The Clubhouse Family Legal Support Project (CFLSP) provides legal representation and assistance to low income parents diagnosed with a mental illness who are seeking to access or regain custody of their children. The CFLSP is a partnership between MHLAC and the metro-west clubhouse, Employment Options, Inc.  The Project is supported and funded by the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the Massachusetts Bar Foundation (MBF).

CFLSP is committed to serving parents diagnosed with mental illness because they are at high risk of losing custody of and/or all contact with their children in the family courts, particularly if without legal representation.  Contact them by phone 617-338-2345 or (toll free- MA only) 1-800-342-9092, or intake email Intake@mhlac.org. General business hours are 9:00 AM -5:00 PM Monday – Friday.  Intake hours are 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM on Monday, Wednesday & Friday and the Intake Line phone is 617-338-2345 press “4” or toll free 1-800-342-9092 press “4”.

Basic Guidelines for Choosing an Attorney to represent your child’s interests in Special Education

Guidelines for Choosing an Advocate

New Interpretation of FMLA Issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division: a new Administrator Interpretation that expands the Family and Medical Leave Act’s (FMLA) current language to include adult children who are unable to care for themselves because of a mental or physical disability and whose disabilities occurred before or after the age of 18. The previous interpretation of the law was unclear as it applied to adult children with disabilities.

This Interpretation also clarifies FMLA-protected leave for a parent is not dependent on the age of the adult child and the onset of their disability, and broadens the definition of “disability” to reflect the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Ultimately, this Interpretation means that more parents will be able to take FMLA- protected leave from their jobs to care for their adult children with disabilities.

Learn more about the FMLAA and this new Administrator Interpretation from UCP’s Website

The Legal Advocacy and Resource Center (LARC) has operated a free legal hotline in support of its mission to help low-income Massachusetts residents with legal problems by providing quality legal information and advice, and by making referrals to legal and social service agencies. LARC also completes intake screenings for Greater Boston Legal Services and the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, as well as, family law intake screenings for Community Legal Services And Counseling Center and limited intake screening for MetroWest Legal Services

LARC provides concrete legal information on a wide range of legal issues. We can, however, be most helpful to people calling about the following types of cases:

  • Housing, including Evictions, Public Housing, Repairs, Foreclosure;
  • Family Law, including Divorce, Child Support, Custody, Guardianship, Visitation, Restraining Orders;
  • Public Benefits, including SSI, Social Security, Food Stamps, TAFDC;
  • Employment Issues, including Unemployment Benefits, Wage and Hour Claims, Family Medical Leave Act questions;
  • Consumer Issues, including Utilities, Bankruptcy and Debt Collection issues;
  • CORI issues;
  • Veterans.

We do not provide information about Criminal, Immigration, Personal Injury or Workers’ Compensation matters or about cases taking place outside of Massachusetts. Our hotline number (for brief advice and referrals): 617-603-1700 or 1-800-342-LAWS. You can also apply for legal services online.

Americans with Disabilities Act and MA Commission Against Discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1990. It was later amended in 2009. “Covered entities” must make reasonable accommodations for covered individuals who are qualified for job positions. An employer cannot simply dismiss a potential employee because of a disability.

The ADA is not the only federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Learn about other disability rights laws.

The Disability Law Lowdown Podcasts, provides information on disability laws and other subjects available to download and listen to, as well as podcast transcripts to read. Information covered includes the Americans with Disabilities Act , the Air Carrier Access Act , the Ticket to Work program, the Fair Housing Act and other laws and programs that support the rights and independence of people with disabilities. This information is also available in Spanish. Disability Law Lowdown ASL videos are on YouTube.

ADA Information Line, talk to a U.S. Department of Justice ADA specialist in confidence or order DOJ publications. Phone: 800 – 514 – 0301.

Disability Rights Legal Center, provides legal information, direct representation and referrals for disability-related legal issues. Services are free to consumers, and training is available to businesses as well. Central Intake Line: (213) 736-1334.

Center for Public Representation, dedicated to serving individuals with disabilities; a public interest law firm assisting people with disabilities. Although they rarely provide legal assistance on an individual basis, they have been a major force in promoting improvements in services for citizens with mental disabilities throughout the country. Phone: 413-586-6024.

Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD): Boston office: (617) 994-6000. Address: 1 Ashburton Place Boston, MA 02108. MCAD also has offices in Springfield, Worcester and New Bedford. A charge of discrimination must be filed in person at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) offices. If you believe you have been discriminated against, you should come to the MCAD immediately to file a complaint. In all but a few exceptions, the MCAD cannot accept complaints based on incidents over 300 days old.


Student education records are official and confidential documents protected by one of the nation’s strongest privacy protection laws, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA, also known as the Buckley Amendment.

Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights! A guide for students who want to seek help for mental illness or emotional distress. Produced by the Leadership21 Committee of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. Chapters include: You are Not Alone, Seeking Help, Privacy, Academic Accomaodations, Discipline, Involuntary Leave of Absence, Going to a Psychiatric Hospital, Forced Medication,  Resources. Phone: 202-467-5730.

The Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities has developed a wide-ranging collection of resources for the field. Our knowledge translation activities include peer reviewed publications in national journals, nearly one hundred toolkits, monographs, and guidebooks designed to provide policy and practical guidance to consumers and providers working to expand community participation, and a catalogue of exemplary programs. All of these can be accessed here, at no cost. The UPenn Collaborative on Community Integration is A Rehabilitation Research & Training Center Promoting Communitytion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation rch (NIDRR). For more information, please visit us at.

Disability Law Center (DLC) of Massachusetts . DLC is a private, non-profit organization responsible for providing protection and advocacy for the rights of Massachusetts residents with disabilities.

The Disability Law Center helps with disability-related legal problems in these areas:

  • Access to community services
  • Special education
  • Health care
  • Disability benefits
  • Rights and conditions in facilities

The Disability Law Center (DLC) has numerous legal publications and information resources available for download at the Disability Law Center Information Resources. The Resource Topics include: General, Accessibility, Benefits, Consumer, Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI), Education, Elder, Employment, Health, and Housing.

Disability Information: Massachusetts Network of Information Providers Fact Sheet, Legal Resources


Volunteer Legal Services

Private Bar Associations

The Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP) provides free civil legal assistance to low-income residents of Greater Boston, primarily through the pro bono services of private attorneys. VLP makes access to justice possible for people who cannot afford a lawyer.

The Lawyers Clearinghouse provides pro bono legal services to nonprofit organizations, groups seeking nonprofit status, and guests of area homeless shelters . We offer lawyers meaningful and rewarding pro bono opportunities. We also provide educational programs for nonprofit organizations and lawyers.

Dial-A-Lawyer, free legal advice is available on the first Wednesday of each month. Attorneys volunteer at the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Boston headquarters by providing free, basic legal information by phone to callers from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, to assist anyone and everyone, but particularly those who are not eligible for free legal services or cannot afford to hire a lawyer.To use Dial-A-Lawyer, call (617) 338-0610

Legal Aid by Students

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau is a student-run non-profit law firm that provides free legal services regarding housing, family law, government benefits, or wage and hour law to low or no income people in Suffolk County and parts of Middlesex County. Services are provided by court-certified student attorneys who are supervised and taught by practicing attorneys. Funding comes from the Harvard Law School and private contributions.

Massachusetts Medical Privacy Laws

Final Parity Rule Issued or Click here to visit the SAMHSA page

Know Your Discharge Planning Rights From Massachusetts Licensed Psychiatric Units 10-2-12 by NAMI Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Law About Medical Privacy

HIPAA Privacy Rule and Sharing Information Related to Mental Health or Click here to visit the HHS page

Your Medical Record Rights in Massachusetts: A Guide to Consumer Rights Under HIPAA

Your Medical Records and Your Privacy: A Guide for Massachusetts Consumers Your Rights Regarding Medication in Mass by Health Law Advocates.

brochure_rogers_guardian (PDF) Authorizing the Use of Antipsychotic Medications, Questions and Answers by the Department of Mental Health.

Your Medical Record Rights Mass (PDF) by Joy Pritts, JD, Health Policy Institutes.

Know your rights, various brochures from the Mental Health Legal Advisory Committee)

Massachusetts Housing Laws

Mass. Housing Courts by County

Frequently Asked Questions prepared by the Mass. Housing Court for Tenant/Landlord Disputes including Mediation as an option:

2008 edition of Legal Tactics: Tenants’ Rights in Massachusetts . This handbook provides practical information about tenants’ rights in private housing—housing that is owned by an individual or a privately owned company. In each chapter, reference is made to sample letters and court forms. To get these forms see the list below or go to Self Help Forms where these same forms are organized by topic. If you live in public housing, go to the Public Housing section. You may also purchase Legal Tactics from Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education by calling 1-800-966-6253.

Tenant’s Rights: What Tenants in Forclosed Properties Need to Know

Know your rights, various brochures from the Mental Health Legal Advisory Committee (tenant rights, etc.)

Legal Services for Youth

Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC) created the DYS Project to provide legal information, advice, and representation to youth involved with the Department of Youth Services , as well as to their families, and advocates. The Project provides legal representation on civil matters to post-dispositional DYS-involved youth with a focus on access to quality mental health care and special education services for those confined or in the community. Intake Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Intake Phone Numbers : 617-338-2345 ext.20 or toll free 1-800-342-9092 ext. 20

The Youth Advocacy Division offers legal representation and advocacy to children under 17 years old who are charged as delinquents or youthful offenders. The Youth Advocacy Division provides these services at a number of stages. The Youth Advocacy Division can offer advice and consultation on general delinquency issues.

Committee for Public Counsel (CPC), Children and Family Law (CAFL) Program provides legal representation to children and indigent parents in child welfare matters, including care and protection proceedings, children in need of services cases (CHINS), actions to terminate parental rights, state agency-sponsored guardianships, and any other child custody proceeding where the Department of Social Services (DSS) is a party or where the court is considering granting custody to DSS. In Massachusetts , both children and indigent parents have a right to representation by counsel in child welfare cases.

Prisoner’s Legal Services

Prisoners’ Legal Services (formerly Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services), the office focuses on four issues: health and mental health care, guard-on-prisoner violence, physical conditions of confinement, and segregation and isolation, (they do not provide criminal defense services).

Criminal Records and Applying for a Job. Prepared by Western Massachusetts Legal Services With Assistance of a Grant from the Union Community Fund of the Pioneer Valley 7/2004.

Mass. Executive Office of Public Safety & Security, Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI):

Mass. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Find a Lawyer

Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI). The CORI Reader, (38 page PDF prepared by Mass. Law Reform Institute) can be downloaded from this site.


Department of Mental Health Complaint Form


Dept. of Mental Health complaint form This Complaint Form was created by the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and may be downloaded from the table below and completed by anyone wanting to make a complaint about dangerous, illegal, and/or inhumane conditions or treatment experienced by a DMH client or anyone receiving services from a program or facility licensed or operated by DMH or contracted with DMH. For further action, please mail the completed Complaint Form to the following address:

Department of Mental Health
Central Office of Investigations
25 Staniford St., Boston, MA 02114

If you have any questions regarding this form, please call Cherylanne Mealhow, DMH Administrative Services Manager, at (617) 626-8108 or the DMH Central Office Information and Referral Specialist at 1-800-221-0053 (during regular business hours only, Monday through Friday, 8:45am – 5:00pm).

Know your rights, various brochures from the Mental Health Legal Advisory Committee (patient rights, DMH complaint process, etc.)

Know your rights, from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), Hotline in English and Spanish M-F 1:30-4:30pm , HIV related protections, Gay/Straight Alliances, transgender issues and helps with harassment

Minority Legal Services

Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys

Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers

Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association

Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys

Find Law

Find a lawyer in your area using FindLaw

FindLaw for the Public, thousands of articles and resources in scores of categories to help the public with a wide range of legal issues, from bankruptcy to landlord/tenant law to selecting a lawyer:


Parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys come to Wrightslaw for accurate, reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities.

Committee for Public Counsel (CPC)

Committee for Public Counsel (CPC), Mental Health Litigation Unit, provide trial and appellate representation to indigent persons against whom are filed petitions seeking commitment to public or private psychiatric facilities or judicial authorization to administer or terminate certain types of treatment (e.g., antipsychotic medication, aversive behavior modification, life-support mechanisms). The CPC also trains, and is available to assist, criminal defense attorneys in respect to mental health issues that arise in the criminal justice context (e.g., competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility.

Private Lawyers

American Bar Association, Lawyer Referral & Information Service, Massachusetts:

Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (Search engine to assist in finding a lawyer)


How to Hire a Bankruptcy Attorney in 2015


My friend/family member won’t follow recommended treatment. What can I do to make him follow through?

In the United States noncompliance is not a crime and therefore medication or therapy is not enforceable except in the case of minors, and those who are a danger to themselves or others. NAMI Mass offers education programs and support groups that can assist mental health consumers and family members/friends that are living with mental illness. By visiting the link below, you can find the NAMI group closest to you for more information. The contacts there and the families involved with the support groups have been through similar experiences and know of resources in your area to help you cope with your or your family member’s illness. In extreme cases where a mental health consumer may be a danger to themselves or others, a friend or family member can petition the courts to have the person committed to assisted treatment.

Your Local NAMI will have more information particular to your state laws concerning these procedures. Or you may contact the NAMI Legal Center (by legal@nami.org or by calling 800-950-6264)that provides lawyer referrals as a service to our members and the general public for information and guidance through the process.  NAMI offers education programs and support groups that can assist persons experiencing mental illness and their family members through the recovery process. Your local NAMI Affiliate can provide more information. NAMI affiliate groups are comprised of mental health consumers and family members who may know of resources in your area to help you cope.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 123 Section 12 authorizes any physician or qualified psychiatric clinical specialist (including a psychologist, nurse or social worker) to  authorize restraint of a person who in their judgment is a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 125 Section 35 permits the courts to involuntarily commit someone who has lost the power of self-control over the use of controlled substances or whose use of alcohol or drugs puts themselves at risk by substantially injuring their health or substantially interfering with their social or economic functioning.  The following adults may petition the courts:  spouse, blood relative, physician, guardian, police or court officers.

Medical Guardianships are sometimes used to give families more involvement in the treatment plans for persons being treated for mental illness if an individual does not have the capacity to make treatment decisions.

Here is a link to the Mass. Department of Mental Health Civil Commitment and Hospital Admissions Forms.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Trial Court has issued a New Protocol for Pre-Arraignment Emergency Psychiatric Hospitalization: NewProtocolforPREArraignmentEmergPsychHosp

Rogers Guardian Brochure (PDF) Authorizing the Use of Antipsychotic Medications, Questions and Answers

Your Rights Regarding Medication in Mass (Word)

A Road Map through the Criminal Justice System for Persons with Mental Illness and Their Family presented by NAMI Massachusetts (PDF)

Consider reading this article What to Do if Someone with Bipolar Refuses Treatment. (This really applies regardless of the diagnosis.)

How do I file a complaint against a mental health care facility/professional?

Health Care For All’s Consumer Health Quality Council Members of the Council created this guide to help people successfully navigate the customer service channels at different hospitals. This guide features information about the contacts and policies at each hospital, as well as general advice about addressing health care quality problems whenever—and wherever—they arise. We will add additional hospitals and health centers over time. Please share your experiences and advice with us, so that we can all benefit from a growing body of knowledge. Contact Deb at dwachenheim@hcfama.org.http://www.assertivepatient.org/

The Assertive PatientA Guide to Speaking Up When You Are Dissatisfied With A Health Care Experience

Complaints about an individual physician/psychiatrist – If the physician/psychiatrist works for a hospital or agency, you may contact the doctor’s supervisor. You can also file a complaint with the state medical board, click here, or – if he/she is a member – the American Psychiatric Association (APA) (some psychiatrists are members, some are not).

In Mass, there is the Mass. Association of Psychiatrists. Complaints about other MH Professionals – If employed by a hospital or agency, you may file complaints with the therapist’s Supervisor, the Hospital Ombudsman, or Administrator. Therapists are regulated by their licensing boards (e.g. the state board of health and mental hygiene, counseling, or other licensing board).

If the person is a social worker, you can file a complaint with the Commonwealth’s board of licensure for social workers.

Abuse or neglect in an institutional setting: Protection and Advocacy Agencies advocate on behalf of individuals with mental illness who are in institutional settings (such as a jail, correctional facility, or state psychiatric facility); allegations of abuse or neglect are one of their top priorities.

In Mass. there is the Disabled Persons Protection Commission which will take and investigate complaints of physical abuse. Complaints of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment in the hospital setting: Report to the Hospital Ombudsman or Administrator.

For Psychiatric Units in hospitals, report them to the Dept. of Mental Health. For all other Hospital units including emergency rooms, report them to the Dept. of Public Health. JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) Complaint Hotline at (800) 994-6610 — JCAHO accredits hospitals, home health agencies, nursing homes, laboratories, outpatient clinics, behavioral health care programs and managed care plans, among others. Complaints should be related to patient rights, care of patients, safety, infection control, medication use, and/or security (and not billing, insurance, or payment disputes.

Complaints about a CMHC (community mental health center): You may file a complaint with the Dept. of Mental Health. Medicaid and Medicare recipients with complaints about the CMHCs have the following options: Medicare beneficiaries may contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Regional Medicare Office and the state Peer Review Organization; Medicaid beneficiaries may contact the Mass Health official and perhaps the state Medical Review Board.

Your Local NAMI Affiliates may be able to assist you as well.

Filing Lawsuits: You should seek a private attorney. Click here for guidelines on how to find an attorney.

State bar listings may be found at www.martindale.com.

My friend or family member is in jail due to his/her mental illness. How can we help?

View this helpful guide for help and resources:  A Road Map through the Criminal Justice System for Persons with Mental Illness and Their Family presented by NAMI Massachusetts (PDF)

The National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems, Inc and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law are designed to deal with the rights of individuals involved with the criminal justice system. They specifically address the needs of incarcerated individuals, whether they are in the correctional system, or hospitalized in a forensic ward.

In Mass., incarcerated individuals and their family members/caregivers who need physical or mental health services can contact the Prisoner Legal Services by clicking here.

Your Local NAMI Affiliate may also be able to offer suggestions and/or support. Click here to view NAMI’s Fact Sheet on the Criminal Justice System.

The Family Information provides information on a variety of topics, one of which is resources and support for families that have a loved one in jail or prison. The site is not directed specifically at families coping with mental illness, but some of the information may still be helpful for families needing support while a loved one is incarcerated. http://www.thefamilyinformationcenter.com

My employer is not treating me fairly because I have a mental illness. What can I do to fight this?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment; state and local government activities; public accommodations; public transportation; telecommunications; and public services. It was signed into law by President George Bush on July 26, 1990. Click here for more information about the law.

You may contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) here to find out how to file a complaint.

Does NAMI offer legal advice, or have a listing of lawyers?

The NAMI National Legal Center receives daily calls from our members and the public requesting legal assistance. As a result, we created a lawyer referral panel as a service to those in need of legal assistance. We require attorneys on our Lawyer Referral Panel to complete questionnaires regarding their specialties, fees, education and liability insurance. Communications to the center remain confidential, as does our attorney information. We do not verify qualifications or credentials of attorneys on our panel, and supplement our listings with the Disability Law Directory of the American Bar Association, the Directory of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association Directory and the Directory of Local Pro Bono Programs. You may contact the NAMI National Legal Center by email or by calling 703-524-7600. Please furnish your full name, address with zip code and telephone number to help them find legal aid in your area. Legal Aid / local legal service agencies may assist those unable to pay for legal assistance (limitations often apply, such as no criminal cases). Click here for legal aid agencies in Mass. Local NAMI Affiliates may keep lists of attorneys familiar with mental illness issues, or they may be willing to share informal, personal experiences with local lawyers. The American Bar Association has an online database of pro-bono attorneys. They also offer guidelines for finding free legal assistance You may also wish to consult this state by state listing of attorneys.