For almost a decade the National Alliance on Mental Illness Colorado’s Law Line has been helping those with mental health issues and their families combat legal issues.
Law Line Managing Attorney Marilyn Robertson said she proposed it in May 2013, after serving on the NAMI Colorado Board for many years. Questions were raised at first on whether something like this was needed, but Robertson was adamant it was.
“Even I, as an attorney … still didn’t know a whole lot about it at that time and a lot of … medical professionals didn’t know anything about any of the laws related to dealing with someone with mental health disorders,” Robertson said.
She noted the law concerning mental health is always changing. During the 2022 Colorado General Assembly’s session, a bill was passed that created the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration in the Department of Human Services in order to coordinate a cohesive behavioral health system in the state. By July 2024, the law requires the BHA to establish a behavioral health performance monitoring system and behavioral health safety net system, among other things.
For the Law Line, Robertson, an appellate attorney who has her own practice, recruits attorneys for distinct areas of the ever-changing laws.
“Two of the major targeted areas was involuntary civil commitment,” Robertson said. “The other one was criminal cases; what happens when someone who is mentally ill, is being charged with a crime.”
She added other major areas the Law Line deals with are estate planning and employment law.
Robertson noted the Law Line is not just for family members seeking help for a loved one, but it could also be a friend or the person themself. They call the Law Line which is answered by staff at NAMI Colorado who have been trained with questions on a screening sheet which is filled out and emailed to an attorney.
The person needing help can then reach out to that attorney for a free consultation asking them to do at least a 15-minute consult, but they all go for longer than that, Robertson continued. Colorado residents are not the only ones that call in.
“Let’s say a family member lives in New York and they have a son or daughter living in Colorado; well they don’t know the laws in Colorado and maybe they believe that son or daughter needs some help in some regard, and so then they’ll call us and then we will be able to connect them up to the appropriate attorney on that targeted area that they’re looking for information on,” Robertson said.
After a consultation, the person calling could hire the attorney they spoke to, if the attorney is willing to take the case, which would be completely separate from the Law Line. The attorneys on the Law Line could also refer the caller to another attorney after a consultation.
Currently, NAMI Colorado has eight attorneys volunteering for the Law Line — and many have been there from the beginning. Robertson added the organization is willing to add more, but attorneys volunteering at the Law Line really need to be dedicated to helping those with mental health problems.
“It was very important to me that we get people that [have] a real passion for helping anyone that’s affected by any mental health disorder,” Robertson said. “I was really looking for people that were really committed to doing it for the right reasons, not just because they wanted to put it on their resume or something like that.”
The Law Line is also all about acceptance.
“It’s a way to try to give validation to these people that often feel … like nobody cares,” Robertson said. “Mental health disorders are kind of like a ‘no-casserole illness.’ When someone has [a] heart problem … or someone’s in the hospital having had surgery for cancer, everybody wants to bring the casseroles over. But when you have someone that you love … and they are having some mental health problems, everyone kind of steps away. This is a way to try to say ‘no, we want to see what we can do to help you.’”
Robertson said monthly call volume varies anywhere from 15 to nearly 60. To reach the NAMI Colorado Law Line call (303) 321-3104 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.