What You May Not Know About Attorney-Client Privilege

Attorney-client privilege is the concept which states communication between an attorney and client is confidential. This means no one can force either the client or his attorney to disclose the details of their conversations. Non-lawyers oftentimes are unaware of their role regarding attorney-client privilege. In order to better understand this concept, consider the central purpose of the rule:

Open and honest communication. Because an attorney represents clients’ interests in adversarial proceedings, it is essential for clients to fully disclose and share all of the facts concerning their case. An attorney must determine what facts would likely guide the court’s decision if the case goes to trial. The more information an attorney knows about the situation, the better he can meaningfully strategize and assess the merits of the case.

While criminal prosecutions may be the first types of cases that come to mind when discussing attorney-client privilege, the privilege is vital to other types of litigation as well. For example, absent this protection, a divorce client may not tell her attorney about her husband’s history of alcoholism and physical abuse out of fear her husband may be able to discover the details of her conversation. Consequently, her attorney may fail to recognize the potential danger to his client when she files for divorce. Had she shared this information, her attorney may have advised her to simultaneously apply for a Temporary Protective Order (TPO).

Clients hold the privilege. An attorney cannot share your information absent your instructions to the contrary. On the other hand, the privilege is waived if a client discussed communication with her attorney with someone else (although spousal privilege applies to conversations between a husband and wife).

Scope. Attorney-client privilege only applies when an attorney gives you legal advice. For example, if an attorney shares investment advice (outside any other dominant purpose related to your specific case), this communication is not privileged.

Be sure to contact us for more information if you have any specific concerns about whether your conversation is privileged. This post is for general information purposes only.