The attorney-client privilege is a longstanding legal protection in the United States, safeguarding communications between a client and their attorney.
While it offers significant protections, this article will examine its scope, exceptions, and additional key factors to consider.
What Is the Attorney-Client Privilege?
The attorney-client privilege is a rule of evidence that safeguards certain confidential communications.
It applies to communications between a client and their attorney, ensuring they remain confidential.
These protections endure even after the attorney-client relationship ends, whether by choice or due to a party’s passing.
Waivers and Exceptions
The attorney-client privilege, although robust and enduring, can be waived either voluntarily or involuntarily.
Waiving attorney-client privilege can lead to the disclosure of highly confidential information, so understanding what actions trigger a waiver is vital.
Presence of a Third Party
The attorney-client privilege is usually waived when a third party is present during a conversation between the client and their lawyer.
This can happen in in-person meetings, email chains, or other forms of communication.
Clients should be cautious about who is involved in their discussions to safeguard sensitive information.
Crime Fraud Exception
The attorney-client privilege doesn’t protect communications when a client seeks advice for ongoing or future criminal or fraudulent activities.
In essence, if a client consults an attorney for guidance on illegal actions, the privilege does not apply, regardless of whether the lawyer is aware of the unlawful intent.
If a client accidentally reveals privileged information to a third party, it can result in a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.
In some cases, this may lead to a “subject matter waiver,” where not only the disclosed information but also related details on the same topic lose their privileged status.
Clients should be cautious to prevent inadvertent disclosures.
The client owns the attorney-client privilege, so only the client can intentionally waive it.
However, in certain legal situations, it might be beneficial to waive the privilege, and it’s usually the attorney who recognizes when this is appropriate.
Clients should trust their attorney’s judgment in such cases.
Attorney-client privilege laws are complex and differ by location.
Always discuss attorney-client privilege matters with your attorney before sharing confidential information.