Like a doctor looking at a patient's medical chart during a check-up, attorneys deal with and talk through their clients' most sensitive and private information on a daily basis. For an attorney, reputational integrity is everything. Clients must trust their attorney wholeheartedly in order to comfortably share intimate information about a case so their attorney can represent them as best they can. This trust and the mutual understanding of confidentiality it represents is called attorney-client privilege.
What is Attorney-Client Privilege?
Attorney-client privilege is a legal concept that protects communications between a client and their attorney from being disclosed to third parties. Attorney-client privilege is designed to encourage clients to be open and honest with their attorneys so that they can get the best and most personalized legal advice for their unique situation.
The attorney-client privilege is a fundamental right in the United States legal system. It is essential to the fair administration of justice, and it helps to ensure that clients can get the legal help they need from an attorney they know is on their side. Without the privilege, clients would be less likely to be honest with their attorneys, which could prevent the attorneys from providing effective representation.
How Does Attorney-Client Privilege Work?
Attorney-client privilege is based on the idea that a client should be able to trust their attorney completely. The privilege protects all communications between a client and their attorney, regardless of the form of the communication. This includes:
Written communication; and
The attorney’s employees are also subject to the same agreement of confidentiality, meaning the attorney’s administrative assistant or paralegals also must demonstrate integrity in keeping the details of the client's situation confidential. This is because the employees are considered to be agents of the attorney and are therefore bound by the same obligation.
When Does Attorney-Client Privilege Apply?
Attorney-client privilege applies to all communications between a client and their attorney about past, present, or future legal matters.
The privilege also applies to some communications about confidential information that is not directly related to a legal matter. For example, an attorney may be expected to keep a client's medical information confidential if the client discloses the information to the attorney for the purpose of obtaining legal advice.
The privilege applies only to the communications between an attorney and client, not necessarily all content discussed. It does not mean that the client never has to disclose information relevant to the matter just because she has shared it with her attorney. For example, in the case of a car accident, if the client shares with her attorney that she was texting at the time of the accident, simply telling this information to her attorney does not “protect” that information from being disclosed during the course of a lawsuit. If the client is asked questions at a deposition and if the questions are relevant to the matter and there is no other applicable legal objection, the client may have to share that information to truthfully answer deposition questions.
Are There Any Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege?
Attorney-client privilege is not absolute, and there are a few exceptions. These exceptions are designed to protect the public interest or to prevent harm to others. Additionally, the privilege can be waived by the client, either intentionally or unintentionally.
One exception is the crime-fraud exception, which states that an attorney cannot keep a client's secrets if the client is asking for advice for the commission of a fraud or other crime. For example, an attorney cannot keep a client's secrets if the client communicates that they are planning to rob a bank or if a client comes to them for legal advice on how best to pull off a scam.
Another exception is the waiver exception. This exception allows the disclosure of confidential communications if a client waives the privilege. A client can either waive the privilege intentionally or unintentionally. An example of an intentional waiver of attorney-client privilege would be if a client were to disclose the information to a third party like the media in an interview. A client can also waive the privilege unintentionally, such as by sharing would-be private information publicly (as in via social media or in a media interview) because of an emotional or hasty response.
Consult a Lawyer
Experienced attorneys at the Everson Law Firm pride themselves on their integrity and are proud of their pristine reputation earned through serving and protecting clients since 1916. Contact Everson Law today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.