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What is Attorney – Client Privilege?

Attorney-client privilege protects certain communications between a client and his or her lawyer. It is meant to assure clients that the information they share with their attorney is confidential, and that their attorney cannot use that information to testify against them. Clients need to have full confidence in their attorneys, and attorneys need to know the whole story to adequately advise and defend their clients; attorney-client privilege is meant to foster such open communication and promote voluntary compliance with the law.

In general, in order for the attorney-client privilege to apply, the following conditions must be met:

  • A person must have an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer. An attorney-client relationship is established when an individual is a client or is seeking to become a client.
  • A person must be seeking confidential legal advice from a lawyer. The attorney-client privilege only applies to those individuals who are seeking legal advice from an attorney acting in the capacity of an attorney at the time information or advice is sought.
  • A person must share information with only his or her attorney. Any information that is shared with a third party that is not involved in the legal matter at hand is not protected under attorney-client privilege.

It is important to be aware that not all communication you share with an attorney is protected under attorney-client privilege. Information that is considered protected under attorney-client privilege varies from state to state. Most jurisdictions allow attorneys to share information gained in confidence if sharing this information will prevent additional crimes. Additionally, some jurisdictions allow attorneys to disclose confidential information if sharing this information will prevent physical or financial harm to others.

Attorney-client privilege is the client’s privilege; a client may waive this privilege at any time, even unintentionally. To make sure that you do not inadvertently give-up this privilege, make sure you are aware of how attorney-client privilege works in your state. Ask your attorney what information is covered under the privilege and how you can make sure your privilege is protected.