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What Is Attorney-Client Privilege?

When you’ve been injured in an accident, at work, or in any other situation, seeking justice for the losses you have sustained can be a difficult battle. This is why it’s strongly advised that you work with a skilled Martin County personal injury attorney. However, what’s to stop your attorney from testifying against you if the insurance company standing in your way summons them to the stand? What makes it so that you can confide in your attorney with confidence?

The answer is a long-standing rule which ensures the justice system functions as intended: attorney-client privilege. Attorney-client privilege is the principle which states that attorneys are not allowed to divulge their client’s secrets, and in turn others are not allowed to force them to divulge them either. This enables those who need assistance and legal representation to fully-confide in their attorneys, which then in turn enables their attorneys to better represent them in a court of law.

When Attorney-Client Privilege Applies

Attorney-client privilege applies to any and all communications between an attorney and someone with whom they have an established professional relationship as a client. Essentially, this rule states that lawyers may not reveal any of the contents of these conversations between themselves and their clients who confide in them, except for to members of their legal team who are also bound by the same duty to maintain secrecy. The client may choose to waive this right, but the lawyer may not at any time. Even if their client passes away, the attorney and their team may never divulge their secrets except in rare circumstances.

This rule also applies to those whom an attorney does not have an existing attorney-client relationship with in one common circumstance: potential clients. You are allowed to confide the details of your case with an attorney before retaining their services, and that confidence is still protected by attorney-client privilege. This continues to apply even if you don’t actually wind up retaining that attorney for your case.

Attorney-client privilege is extended to nearly any form of communication which have an expectation of privacy. This can include meetings in an attorney’s office, in a client’s home, or those in a hospital room with the door shut. It can also apply to electronic communications, like emails, phone calls, faxes, and more. And even written communications such as letters or other forms of physical mail.

What Isn’t Protected

Everything listed above has something in common: they’re good ways to have a private conversation. There’s no chance that someone who is passing by, nearby, or in the vicinity will overhear any portion of the conversation, and thus learn of the aspects of what is being discussed. However, this doesn’t apply to conversations held in public places, like in parks, restaurants, or on a busy street. In this case, these conversations are not protected by attorney-client privilege since theoretically anyone around could overhear what is being said. In this same spirit, any conversations with an attorney where a third-party is present, even if it’s a trusted loved one like a parent or child, are not protected by attorney-client privilege. While the attorney themselves generally cannot divulge the contents of these conversations, the third party in the room can be called to testify about what was said.

Another instance where attorney-client privilege is not extended is to one of the most rapidly-growing forms of communication in the modern era: social media. Even if your account is protected, to the highest degrees that these platforms allow, anything posted to social media is considered public information, and odds are there’s a way to access it. Thus, it can and will be used in a court of law if it contains any sensitive information.

Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege

There are a few instances in which attorney-client privilege does not apply, and thus an attorney could potentially be required to testify against their client. Arguably the most important is when a client is contacting an attorney or legal representative with the intent of committing an act of fraud or some other form of a crime. For example, if a client contacts an attorney and claims they’ve been injured through negligence, but in reality is working to try and scam the attorney out of a significant amount of money, then the initial communications between the attorney and the one who contacted them are no longer protected by attorney-client privilege, and the attorney may then testify against that client should they be found out and accused of a fraud offense.

The second instance doesn’t apply as often to personal injury law, but more so to criminal law, and that’s when an attorney receives information that someone is going to commit another serious offense. For example, if someone is arrested for robbing a convenience store, and in their initial meeting they tell their attorney that they’re going to go kill the person who turned them in, then the attorney has an obligation to notify the authorities of the threat so they can act accordingly.

If you’ve been injured and suffered serious losses, call Lauri J. Goldstein & Associates, PLLC today at (866) 675-4427 and let us help you fight for the justice you deserve!