What is Attorney-Client Privilege?
A lawyer accepts much responsibility when they agree to assist a client. Among the duties an attorney owes to their clients is that of confidentiality, also called attorney-client privilege. Essentially, the principal of attorney-client privilege means that a lawyer is never required to provide testimony that would be adverse to their client’s interest. No one has the right to compel disclosure of information that a lawyer holds in confidence for their client.
How Attorney-Client Privilege Works
Because of attorney-client privilege, a client can be candid with their lawyer without fear that the information will be shared elsewhere. It makes it possible to freely communicate information that the client might otherwise never reveal. Attorney-client privilege enables a lawyer to provide the most aggressive and well-reasoned representation possible because they know the whole story. Without it, the American justice system would be nightmarish.
Before the privilege strictly applies, a relationship must be established between the lawyer and the client. This relationship is usually established with a representation agreement, engagement letter, the payment of legal fees or even an oral agreement. The attorney-client privilege may exist from the moment of the initial consultation. If a person seeks legal counsel, but ends up not hiring a particular lawyer, they are still likely protected by attorney-client privilege.
Attorney-client privilege does not just cover conversations. Written communications may also be covered. Accordingly, a lawyer might send the client a letter about the status of their case that is marked with the notation “attorney-client privilege.” Any written communication that contains this notation is protected by privilege. However, if the client elects to share the letter with a third party, this may violate the privilege and make the correspondence subject to discovery. That is why a lawyer typically cautions clients not to forward emails or show letters to other parties.
The attorney-client privilege is an important principal that helps the U.S. justice system function smoothly. It helps to avoid conflicts and promotes trust between lawyers and clients.
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