Breaking Down Attorney-Client Privilege: What It Means and How It Can Affect Your Case
Paul Brannon | February 7, 2023 | Personal Injury
Attorney-client privilege is a legal doctrine that protects communications between a client and their lawyer from being disclosed to third parties without the client’s consent. This privilege is considered essential to the functioning of the legal system, as it allows clients to speak freely and candidly with their lawyers without fear that their statements will be used against them in court or other legal proceedings.
What Is Covered by the Attorney-Client Privilege?
The attorney-client privilege only protects communications made to obtain legal advice and not necessarily the communicated information. In other words, if you tell your lawyer something in confidence during a meeting or phone call, your lawyer cannot disclose that conversation without your permission. However, if the facts can be discovered through another source, they may not be considered privileged information.
The only thing that is protected by attorney-client privilege is the communication itself – not necessarily the underlying facts.
When Is the Attorney-Client Relationship Established?
Attorney-client privilege only exists once an attorney-client relationship is established. Legal sources differ on when exactly this occurs. Some maintain that an attorney-client relationship does not exist until both parties agree that legal advice or representation will be provided in exchange for payment.
This agreement may take the form of an engagement letter, fee contract, or oral agreement between parties. It may also be acknowledged by the appearance of the attorney on behalf of their client in court or other legal proceedings.
However, other legal sources suggest that an attorney-client relationship may be established sooner than this, such as when a prospective client meets with an attorney for a free consultation. More on this below.
The Relationship Can Be Implied
In some cases, an attorney-client relationship may be implied from certain conduct between the individual and the lawyer without an express contract. For example, if a potential client meets with an attorney and they discuss a legal issue in depth, this could create an attorney-client relationship for the purposes of privilege.
However, it is important to note that the relationship between them cannot exist unilaterally in the mind of a potential client unless there is a “reasonable belief” that such a relationship exists.
A reasonable belief means that correspondence between the potential client and the lawyer could be interpreted as an indication of a professional relationship between them.
This could include meeting with the lawyer in person, emails or phone calls about legal matters, or any other communication that implies an attorney-client relationship.
Because of this nuance involved in when exactly attorney-client privilege is formed, it is best to ask the lawyer at the beginning of the meeting to confirm that your communications will be covered.
There Are Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege
The attorney-client privilege is not absolute, and there are certain situations where confidentiality can be broken. Two of the most common exceptions include the following:
Death of a Client
When a client passes away, the attorney-client privilege may be broken if any subsequent litigation between the deceased person’s heirs or other beneficiaries must result in the privilege being breached.
Furtherance of a Crime or Fraud
An attorney-client communication is not privileged if it involves the furtherance of a crime or fraud. In this case, your conversation is not protected by attorney-client privilege and can be used as evidence in court against you. In fact, your attorney may be ethically required to report this communication.
How Attorney-Client Privilege Could Affect Your Personal Injury Case
Attorney-client privilege gives you the freedom to speak openly and honestly with your personal Injury Lawyer about matters related to your case without worrying about what might happen if those conversations are shared.
It also means that any information or documents you share with them will remain confidential unless you waive the privilege or it is determined by a court that there is an exception.
Attorney-client privilege gives your attorney a level of comfort when discussing strategies for resolving disputes or preparing for trial, as they know you’re more likely to be honest.
By understanding this concept ahead of time, prospective clients can protect themselves against possible breaches of their right to confidentiality while still taking advantage of the benefits of working with an experienced lawyer. Contact Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation if you need legal assistance.
Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in Northwest Florida
We have two convenient locations in Northwest Florida:
Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys – Destin Office
4507 Furling Ln Suite 214
Destin, FL 32541
Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys – Fort Walton Beach Office
975 Mar Walt Dr
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547