What is Attorney-Client Privilege and How Does It Affect My Lawsuit?

When a person seeks the advice an attorney, quite often the client must disclose information that is embarrassing or otherwise potentially damaging to the client’s interests. Many people may feel reluctant to speak with their attorneys because they fear that the information that they communicate to their attorneys will somehow be used against them later on. This fear is groundless because any communications between a client and his attorney are protected by the attorney-client privilege.

What is Attorney-Client Privilege?

A person must be able to communicate effectively with his attorney in order to receive the best legal representation that is possible in his case. The law recognizes the need for a client to be able to talk freely with his attorney without fear of his statements being used against him. The attorney-client privilege protects statements and secrets that a client reveals to his attorney while obtaining legal representation.

The attorney-client privilege applies to both clients and potential clients alike. Often, people seek the advice of a lawyer about a legal situation but do not end up hiring the lawyer after the initial consultation. In these cases, the conversations are covered by attorney-client privilege because the law recognizes a person’s need to speak freely to their attorney during every stage of the legal process. Being able to speak openly and honestly with an attorney can often help an individual avoid problems before they become a major legal issue.

The attorney-client privilege applies in both civil lawsuits and criminal cases. In civil cases there can be a great deal of money at stake. In criminal cases, a client may be faced with the loss of his liberty by court-imposed jail or prison time. The attorney-client privilege generally prevents the attorney from revealing any information that is adverse to his client’s interest.

Limitations of Attorney-Client Privilege

The attorney-client privilege is not absolute. The law recognizes that there are some situations where an attorney has an obligation or duty to disclose certain information or secrets that were revealed to him by a client during the course of his representation. Sometimes, a client will give his lawyer information concerning an activity that potentially will pose future harm to a person or persons. In other cases, a client may reveal information concerning an ongoing or future fraud being committed or planning to be committed upon a person or entity. In these cases, an attorney may have an ethical duty to report this information to the proper authorities.

The law imposes exceptions to the attorney-client privilege rule in order to establish a proper balance between a client’s need to freely communicate with his attorney and the best interest of society as a whole. A client can’t try to use the attorney-client privilege as a shield for protection against prosecution for ongoing or future criminal activities.

It can often be very difficult for an attorney to decide when a particular communication has crossed the line between a protected communication and one that requires disclosure to the authorities. In these situations, an attorney can usually seek confidential guidance from his state bar association.

How Does Attorney-Client Privilege Affect a Lawsuit?

The attorney-client privilege has a positive impact on a client’s lawsuit by allowing an attorney to obtain a wider range of facts to use on behalf of their client. When a client can fully disclose information to his attorney, the lawyer has greater flexibility when dealing with his opponents. The lawyer can anticipate legal problems in advance and create tailor-made defenses to meet his opponent’s claims or objections. The attorney-client privilege facilitates fairness in the judicial process.