What Is Attorney-Client Privilege?

When you’re dealing with a legal matter, it’s extremely important that you have who can represent you and your interests. Representing yourself is not advised: lawyers won’t do it because even they know that emotional involvement leads to mistakes and poor results. That’s why Abe Lincoln famously once said “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The need for an attorney is obvious, but what’s to prevent an attorney from turning around and testifying against you, or worse, being summoned to testify against you? Can you truly trust your attorney and confide every detail of your case in them?

The answer is a resounding and whole-hearted “Yes!” You can and absolutely should confide in your lawyer, as doing so will enable them to better represent you, your interests, and your rights throughout your case. And you don’t have to worry about your attorney using what you tell them against you, either—you’re protected through a rule known as “attorney client privilege.” On this blog, we’ll explain what attorney-client privilege is, what it protects, and how it can help you fight for your rights.

The Definition of Attorney-Client Privilege

To put it in simplified terms: attorney-client privilege is a rule which protects communications between attorneys and their clients. Any information discussed between yourself and your attorney is protected by this rule, and thus attorneys are not at liberty to disclose it. Thus, they are not legally obligated to discuss what you have talked to them about, and they cannot be subpoenaed, summoned to testify, or in any way compelled to disclose your secrets. Attorney-client privilege does not expire at any point either—even after your case has ended or even after you have passed away, attorneys are generally not allowed to disclose your secrets, and thus you can confide in them with the confidence of knowing that your secret is safe.

What Is Protected

What is actually protected by attorney-client privilege? Any form of communication, really. At its most basic, attorney-client privilege protects conversations you have with your attorney, be it in their office, in your home, or anywhere else (with a few important exceptions, which we’ll discuss in a moment). It also extends to things like phone calls, emails, text messages, written mail, and much more. Any communication, either digital or otherwise, is protected by attorney-client privilege. This protection even extends to before you retain the attorney’s services—consultations and evaluations are also considered protected under attorney-client privilege, and attorneys cannot revel the information about your case, even if you decide not to retain them or they decide not to take your case.

For example, if you’re facing criminal accusations, one of the first things your attorney may ask you during your initial consultation is whether you’re actually guilty or not. You are allowed to be honest and truthful with them—this is critical, as it will change how your attorney approaches your case. You’re also allowed to tell them important details about your case—details which may make or break your side of the story.

However, this protection only applies so long as the contents of that conversation remain a secret. This is where one extremely important exception comes in: the contents of a communication must remain between you and your attorney, and nobody else. This means any conversations held in a public place where something could be overheard are not protected by attorney-client privilege, and anyone who overhears any portion of a conversation could then testify about the contents of that conversation in court. This is because conversations in public are generally not assumed to have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”, which means that their contents are not protected behind attorney-client privilege. This is often why attorneys will decline to attend meetings in public places in order to discuss case details—they want things to stay protected, so they would rather hold these conversations in a private place.

This same principle also applies to another form of public communication—social media. Social media posts, even on protected and carefully controlled accounts, are considered to be “public information” and thus are subject to being used as evidence for or against someone. This is why attorneys will so often have you deactivate your social media accounts while your case is ongoing.

What Is Not Protected

There are two other exceptions to attorney-client privilege that immediately forego the protection. First, attorney-client privilege does not apply to conversations in which the “client” is intending to defraud the attorney. For example, if two fraudsters intend to try and have an attorney funnel money into an account through some elaborate scam, then any of the conversations between the attorney and the person who they assumed to be their “client” are not protected. In fact, those conversations can and usually are submitted to the court as evidence.

Second, threats of serious harm or death against someone else are not protected by attorney-client privilege. In many cases, attorneys are both free and even compelled to notify the authorities if they discover through conversations with a client that someone else may be in danger of serious bodily harm or death. For example, let’s say someone who robbed a bank is stopped by law enforcement after the robber’s spouse tipped off authorities of the plan. When meeting with the attorney for the first time, the client tells the attorney they have plans to have their spouse killed for their part in stopping their robbery. In these cases, attorneys would be free to notify the authorities if they feel as though the threat is a real and legitimate indication that someone’s life is in danger.

If you’ve been accused of a crime, or you’re going through a divorce, make sure you have legal representation you can depend on. Call the Law Office of Jody L. Fisher at (352) 503-4111 today and speak with a Leesburg attorney today.

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