The Benefits of Attorney-Client Privilege
Talking to an attorney can be scary, even if you are the victim in a personal injury case. It can be difficult to trust a stranger with sensitive information about yourself, including medical histories and details about the specifics of your current claim. You may worry that the facts you present to an attorney will end up becoming public, which can make you hesitant to confide in legal counsel. Your fear over what can and cannot be shared should not prevent you from consulting with an attorney. There are laws in place that dictate what legal counsel can share and what must be kept confidential.
What is attorney-client privilege?
Attorney-client privilege is the legal term for the rule that preserves the confidentiality of communications between lawyers and their clients. It is one of the oldest privileges recognized by Anglo-American jurisprudence. Its principles can be traced as far back as the Roman Republic.
The privilege is in place to help clients feel comfortable enough to share pertinent details of their cases with the attorneys who will represent them. As a rule, the attorney-client privilege applies under the following conditions:
- A prospective or current client communicates with an attorney for the sole purpose of obtaining legal advice about a situation. For example, a free case evaluation or consultation would qualify for attorney-client privilege, even if the client does not hire the attorney to represent them after the initial consult.
- A lawyer is acting in a professional capacity while offering legal advice. Let’s go back to the free consultation example again. If an attorney offers specific legal advice during the session, it is covered by privilege. If the same attorney provides free legal advice to a friend in a one-off discussion, that communication is not privileged.
- A client intends the communications to be private. If a current or prospective client speaks to an attorney with the impression their conversation is confidential, then privilege applies.
Clients can feel generally safe revealing even the most sensitive information to lawyers because of the attorney-client privilege, which has few exceptions.
Benefits of attorney-client privilege
One of the biggest benefits of attorney-client privilege is it allows clients to be open with their attorneys about sensitive information that can impact their case. For instance, if you were injured on the job and are suing your employer for negligence that caused your injuries your attorney needs to know if you had a contentious relationship with your employer before the accident. By letting your attorney know this detail, he or she will be prepared to deal with it if the opposing counsel makes it an issue while defending against your claim.
Another benefit of attorney-client privilege is it makes the discovery process more thorough. When your lawyer knows all the details about your case in advance, they can narrow down which kinds of evidence to seek to support your claim.
What is not covered by attorney-client privilege
There are limitations to the attorney-client privilege rule. Since the client is the holder of the privilege and not the attorney, clients can waive their right to confidentiality at any time.
If a client is deceased, lawyers no longer are bound by the attorney-client privilege rule and may disclose information about relevant communications if requested to do so. There still are rules that must be followed even after a client’s death. Communications must be subpoenaed by a court of law and be vital to pending litigation before they can be released. Even then, attorneys can attempt to block their release.
Another issue that nullifies attorney-client privilege is if a third party is present during any of the communications. For instance, if an attending physician and a nurse who assisted him during a medical procedure are meeting with an attorney about a potential medical malpractice claim, and the doctor shares details that reveal liability in the case, that information likely will not enjoy protection from disclosure.
Here are some other exceptions to the attorney-client privilege:
- Crime or fraud. Clients who seek the advice of legal counsel intending to use that knowledge in the furtherance of committing a crime or fraud are not protected by the attorney-client privilege.
- Common interest. When two parties share legal representation in the same case, neither can assert client-attorney privilege against the other in any subsequent litigation.
- Fiduciary duty. Corporations do not have a guarantee of attorney-client privilege. Shareholders, under certain circumstances, can pierce the right.
Choosing an attorney that you can trust
Choosing an attorney that you can trust is paramount to your case. Whether you were injured on the job or the victim of medical malpractice, Ron Archibeque is an experienced lawyer who serves as your confidant and your advocate. You can depend on our firm to push for fair compensation for your injuries. Call us at 505-750-2363 or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation.