You might have heard the term “attorney-client privilege” a lot on television or in films. Unfortunately, because of this, there are lots of misconceptions on what it exactly means. We provide a concise and straightforward explanation of attorney-client privilege, how it functions, and how it applies to you when filing a claim for personal injury.
Attorney-client privilege was initially designed to help encourage communication between a lawyer and their client. Someone is much more likely to be truthful and forthcoming with their lawyer if they know that their conversations cannot be shared with anyone else. It also allows the attorney and client to talk about the strategy of a case without having to share that information with others.
Are All Types of Communication Protected Under Attorney-Client Privilege?
Essentially, all of the communication you do between you and your lawyer is confidential. It doesn’t matter if it’s a text message, an email, or a conversation over the phone. All of it is protected under attorney-client privilege. While there are some exceptions here and there, you don’t have much to worry about on a general principle. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to call your attorney and talk to them over the phone before sending anything in writing.
Attorney-Client Privilege Only Applies When There Is an Attorney-Client Relationship
The most common evidence of an attorney-client relationship is an agreement that outlines the terms of retention of a lawyer. But, the attorney-client privilege will often apply to potential clients as well.
Generally, someone cannot claim attorney-client privilege for information if they share it with a friend or family member who happens to be a lawyer, for example. Simply telling something to a lawyer does not mean it’s confidential unless you are that lawyer’s client in some way.
Benefits of Attorney-Client Privilege
There are many benefits to attorney-client privilege that you can take advantage of:
- You can discuss sensitive matters with confidence.
- You can rest easy knowing that everything you tell your lawyer will get kept confidential.
- You can be upfront with your lawyer about anything that may harm your case.
For example, if you have a pre-existing condition and file for a personal injury claim, the insurance company may use that against you. Telling your lawyer, that information will not only be a secret, but you can also use it to your advantage by adequately preparing your case. This allows you to prepare your fight against the insurance company without revealing any information about yourself or the circumstances of your claim.
When Does Attorney-Client Privilege Not Apply?
If you have a contract with a lawyer, are there any circumstances where the attorney-client privilege wouldn’t apply to a particular situation?
Maybe. Below are a few examples.
- A third person is involved in the conversation. You may not have the protection of attorney-client privilege if you include people who are not clients in on your communications. The most common example is a family member. If you have a child or parent that wants to sit in on your conference with your attorney, you may be inadvertently waiving your right to attorney-client privilege for that conversation. The same can be said if you copy in other people on email communications as well. This general rule applies even if the third party is a witness in your case.
- You waive the privilege. It is up to you to assert attorney-client privilege. In many cases, your attorney will assert this privilege on your behalf, but your lawyer really can’t stop you from talking to anyone. When you tell someone else about conversations that you and your attorney had, you are waiving your privilege.
- The attorney must use the information to defend themselves. If you start a lawsuit against your lawyer for malpractice, for example, the attorney involved may be able to use conversations you had that would otherwise be privileged to defend herself.
- The information puts someone in imminent danger. Attorneys have an ethical violation to report information that puts someone at risk for severe injury or fatality. That means that if you threaten to kill someone else to your attorney, and your lawyer has reason to believe that you will act on that threat, your lawyer must report it to the authorities.
It is also important to note that if you call an attorney to share intimate details about you or your situation, chances are that you will not be protected by attorney-client privilege because you have not yet hired that lawyer.
Using Attorney-Client Privilege to Your Advantage
John Foy & Associates can help you use attorney-client privilege to your advantage in your car accident claim or other legal claims. Set up an appointment with a member of our experienced team to learn more. Fill out the form to your right or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.