What is Attorney-Client Privilege?

Legal Article

What is Attorney-Client Privilege?

While the definition of attorney-client privilege is differs depending on if you are in state or federal court, this law generally requires that communication between an attorney and their client that was intended to be confidential remain that way. Further, most states extend this protection so that any employees to an attorney such as paralegals, legal secretaries, or anyone else who may interact with the privileged information cannot disclose it.

What is the Purpose of Attorney Client Privilege

The information you are sharing with your attorney will likely be private—and depending on the type of case, could seriously impact your legal outcome if the opposing attorney knew about it.

Attorney-client privilege prevents your attorney from testifying against you, ensuring that you are safe sharing information that is required to receive accurate and skilled legal advice. Lawsuits can be extremely stressful and attorney-client privilege protects your legal rights and also provides you with some form of relief during a challenging time.

What Communications are Covered by Attorney-Client Privilege

This protection applies to any information between an attorney and their client. The most common forms of protected information include but is not limited to:

  • Oral communications (in person, via zoom, or over the phone)
  • E-mails
  • Text messages 
  • Letters
  • Responsive communication (such as an affirmative nod or complete silence)

An important note is that any written or listed information be conducted solely between the attorney and their client. Many people worry that information their share with an attorney during an initial consultation before they have officially hired the attorney is not protected under attorney-client privilege. However, this is not the case as the attorney-client protections extend to prospective clients as well.

How to Break Attorney Client Privilege

To ensure that the information you share is protected under attorney-client privilege, you must only share it with your attorney. Thus, if you share the information with any other person, they give up this protection. Additionally, protection is also removed if a third party is present when the communication is taking place—even if the third party is there in confidence.

Certain types of information that are not private will also not be protected under attorney-client privilege. For example, just because you give your attorney your publicly accessible tax records does not mean that these records are now private.

What are the Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege

Information between you and your attorney is protected to the extent that none of the following exceptions exist:

  1. Death of a client

The privilege may be breached if a lawsuit arises between the decedent’s heirs or other parties claiming under the deceased client. 

  1. Fiduciary duty

If a corporation’s shareholders wish to waive the corporation’s attorney-client privilege, it may be breached. 

  1. Crime or Active Fraud

The privilege does not apply if a client seeks legal advice from an attorney for the purpose of carrying out a crime or fraud or to conceal a crime or fraud. 

  1. Common interest exception

If two parties are represented by the same attorney in a lawsuit, neither one can invoke the privilege against the other in any future lawsuits if the future lawsuit involves the same subject matter as the previous one where they were jointly represented. 

Contact our DC Attorneys for More Information

For more information on what is attorney-client privilege, contact us at 202-803-5676. You can also directly schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Additionally, for general information regarding legal issues, check out our blog.