When you’re dealing with a legal matter, whether it’s the difficulty of a family law issue, an elder law or estate planning matter, or even a criminal law case, having an attorney you can openly and honestly discuss your issue with is vital. However, some of the information you may need to discuss with them is sensitive, embarrassing, or even potentially incriminating. How do you know that your attorney won’t in turn use that information to their advantage later, or worse, be found out and compelled to testify against you?
This is an extremely realistic worry for some people, but there’s good news if you’re among them: you have nothing to worry about. Attorneys and their clients are bound and protected by a rule known as “attorney-client privilege” which allows them to openly and honestly discuss important issues pertaining to their case, and have those discussions be protected from prying eyes and/or ears. In fact, attorney-client privilege is one of the single most important parts of our unbiased justice and court system, right up there with the presumption of innocence and standards of proof.
The Definition of Attorney-Client Privilege
What exactly is attorney-client privilege? The easiest definition is it’s a rule which protects all communication between attorneys and their clients. Attorneys are not allowed to disclose the contents of any of their conversations with their client, and are allowed to cite attorney-client privilege as the reason for refusing to disclose that information.
This protection extends far beyond the actual duration of a case as well—it continues beyond the case, beyond all statutes of limitation, and even after a client passes away. The only time attorney-client privilege can end is if the client themselves agrees to waive this privilege for some reason.
Finally, attorney-client privilege is even extended to those whom an attorney does not necessarily have a professional client relationship with. This means that even initial consultations are protected under attorney-client privilege. When you have an initial consultation with an attorney, they would like you to be honest with them, both so you can determine you’d like to work with them, and so they can determine if they would like to take your case.
What Is Protected?
This protection extends to any form of communication, with a few exceptions we’ll discuss in a little bit. This includes everything from one-on-one conversations in an attorney’s office to emails and written communications to phone calls and text messages. However, attorneys will almost always try to keep any privileged information limited to face-to-face discussions at all times, and through carefully-monitored phone calls at the absolute most.
Why is this? Because any communication which does not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is not granted protection under attorney-client privilege, and thus could be used against you in your case. For example, a face-to-face conversation in a crowded coffee shop could easily be overheard by someone sitting the next table over. While your attorney may not be able to testify against you, the other side of the courtroom absolutely could call the person sitting at that table to talk about what they overheard.
Likewise, not all forms of communication are as private as you might suspect them to be. This applies most heavily to social media, and is why your attorney will more than likely request that you deactivate your social media accounts until your case is complete. Even if your account is protected and you carefully choose those who can see your information, you never know whose prying eyes may be paying attention to what it is you’re saying.
What Is Not Protected?
There are two other types of communication which are explicitly not protected under attorney-client privilege. First, fraudulent acts against an attorney, or attempted fraud can (and most likely will) be disclosed in a court of law. For example, if a scammer sets up a scheme where they claim they are hurt and have the attorney wire money to their counterpart who is posing as a doctor, these interactions are not protected by attorney-client privilege.
Second, threats against someone else’s safety are also not protected by attorney-client privilege. For example, if someone tells their attorney they plan to frame their spouse for murder in an elaborate plot to try and win full custody of the children, then the attorney is liberty to report the threat and may even be compelled to in order to preserve the person’s safety. This is extraordinarily rare, but instances like this can happen.
Get help with your case from a qualified Waterbury attorney! Call Fitzpatrick Mariano Santos Sousa, P.C. by calling (203) 583-8299 today.