What’s Attorney Client Privilege?

Hossein Berenji, Dec 10, 2021

An attorney can only provide their clients with proper representation if their clients trust them. A client may need to share sensitive information with an attorney to maximize their chances of winning a case. If a client can’t trust their attorney with sensitive information, they may harm their case.

This is why the concept of attorney-client privilege exists. It requires that attorneys keep the information their clients share with them private.

This privilege has actually existed for quite some time. It dates back to the Roman Republic. It has always been based on the notion that an attorney should not be required to testify against their own client.

Complexities of Attorney-Client Privilege

While the primary reason for the existence of attorney-client privilege may be to ensure attorneys cannot be forced to testify against their clients, it also ensures that lawyers must keep their clients’ sensitive information private from third parties.

For example, suppose you’re getting a divorce in Los Angeles. Your lawyer may have a better chance of winning your case if you are comfortable discussing the details of your marriage. Some of these may be embarrassing details that you would not like your family, friends, or employer to know about.

Your attorney must take reasonable steps to prevent this from happening accordingly. The privilege also applies to the attorney’s staff.

However, accidental attorney-client privilege violations can occur and destroy the privilege. Consider the following example: you’re openly discussing sensitive details about a child custody matter with your lawyer. Maybe someone else is in the room and within earshot of your conversation. This person is not affiliated with your attorney.

Sharing confidential information in the presence of a third party will destroy attorney-client privilege. Your disclosure of sensitive information in front of a third party tends to indicate you do not want to keep the information private. Therefore, attorney-client privilege will no longer apply.

The Attorney-Client Relationship

There are similar instances when attorney-client privilege doesn’t apply. Typically, you will enter into an attorney-client relationship by signing an engagement form. This form will state that you are engaging the lawyer to represent you. This document will begin the attorney-client relationship.

You may not be required to enter into a legal contract with an attorney for attorney-client privilege to apply. However, the relationship between the two of you does need to be relatively formal.

Consider another example: you’re preparing for your upcoming same-sex divorce by calling up lawyers to discuss your case. Perhaps you share some sensitive information before asking an attorney to share their opinion on certain matters.

You have not hired said attorney yet and are not certain you plan to. As such, there may be questions regarding whether attorney-client privilege applied to your phone call.

If your searching for an attorney, it’s wise to discuss your concerns about attorney-client privilege at the outset of your meetings. Your attorney’s answers may help you better understand what attorney-client privilege will involve in your case.

You can also use this opportunity to establish certain early expectations. For example, you might want to tell your attorney you prefer no one else to be in the room when discussing your case. Remember, the more comfortable you are with openly discussing various topics with your lawyer, the better your odds of securing an ideal outcome.

Contact a family law attorney for a consultation to discuss your case and how attorney-client privilege may apply.