Understanding Attorney-Client Privilege

One of the benefits of an attorney-client relationship is attorney-client privilege. Simply put, this privilege means that you can trust your one-on-one communications are confidential. While this might seem like a straightforward idea, there are some nuances. And, if you’re a client, you should be aware that if you’re not careful, you can waive attorney-client privilege. If this happens, conversations you’ve had with your attorney can now potentially be used against you.

In this post, we’ll provide you with an overview of this important topic. As always, do ask your attorney for specific information as it pertains to your case.

The Attorney-Client Relationship

The attorney-client relationship forms any time an attorney agrees to provide legal help to a client. There are several ways this can happen:

  • An attorney provides a prospective client with a free case evaluation.
  • A client signs a fee agreement or other contract with an attorney.
  • A former client calls an attorney to help them with a new case.

In all these situations, it’s implied that the attorney is providing legal services to a client (or prospective client). Note that this relationship can exist even if the prospective client doesn’t end up hiring that attorney.

So, what’s an example of an exchange that’s not an attorney-client relationship? Well, this blog post, for one. We’ve provided general information that’s available to multiple readers and potential clients. It shouldn’t be taken as targeted legal advice for a specific person’s situation.

What is Attorney-Client Privilege?

Attorney-client privilege is a specific legal protection that makes communications between an attorney and their client confidential. With this privilege, a client can rest assured that their conversations with their attorney are private.

Here are a few key features of attorney-client privilege:

  • It extends to both oral and written communications between a client and their attorney (e.g., conversations, text messages, email exchanges).
  • A client can openly discuss their case with their attorney, without fearing private information will be disclosed.
  • The very fact that a client is being represented by an attorney can be kept private.

To be clear, the “privilege” belongs to the client. The client enjoys receiving legal advice from their attorney in complete confidence, knowing that nothing they say or ask can be used against them by the opposing party.

Situations when Attorney-Client Privilege Does Not Apply

As you might expect, there are some situations when attorney-client privilege does not apply. Here are some examples of how this could happen:

  • If the client is in the process of committing a crime or covering it up. (Learn more about this exception at NOLO.)
  • If the conversation takes place in a public space or in the presence of a third party (such as a friend of the client’s).
  • If the primary purpose of the conversation isn’t to seek legal advice (e.g., the attorney is discussing unrelated topics with a client or potential client).

When in doubt, make sure to ask your attorney if attorney-client privilege applies.

Warning: Clients can Waive the Attorney-Client Privilege

Remember, the attorney-client privilege belongs to the client. As such, a client can revoke this privilege at any time. Sometimes, this happens willfully. But we’ve also seen many instances where a client unintentionally revokes this privilege.

What do we mean by this? Well, we’ve established that attorney-client communications are confidential. But suppose a client discloses those communications. They are no longer confidential, and the privilege has been waived.

Here are some examples of how a client could waive attorney-client privilege:

  • Forwarding an email from their lawyer to a family member.
  • Discussing conversations with their lawyer to a friend for a “second opinion.”
  • Screenshotting a text from their lawyer and posting to social media.

When a client discloses private attorney communications like this, they are no longer private. They’ve waived their attorney-client privilege. This can be detrimental because those disclosed communications are no longer private and the opposing party may use them against you.

If you are a client, it is essential that you keep all one-on-one communications with your attorney to yourself.

Speak to an Injury Attorney Today

If you’d like to speak to an injury attorney about an accident, we can help. And now you know that we will hold all our conversations in strict confidence! It’s always free for an initial consultation – in fact, we’ll only charge a fee if we’re able to win you a settlement.

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