What the Attorney-Client Privilege Really Means

Clients often share private and sensitive information with their attorneys. It is important that this information remains confidential when a client wishes.

That is why attorney-client privilege exists. Generally, when you hire an attorney, they are prohibited from sharing any sensitive information with third parties — unless you have given prior permission.

However, the specifics of attorney-client privilege can be slightly more nuanced than some realize. This overview will help you better understand this complex topic.

What You Need to Know About Attorney-Client Privilege

Attorney-client privilege is rooted in legal principles that date back to the Roman Republic. Generally, attorney-client privilege ensures that clients don’t need to worry about their attorney sharing their secrets without their permission.

This arrangement naturally serves to boost the comfort of those hiring lawyers. It can also help the legal system as intended.

Clients need to be honest and thorough when sharing information about their cases with their attorneys. They may not be inclined to share confidential information if they are worried that their attorneys will disclose this information to others.

When a client knows their conversations are protected by attorney-client privilege, they will likely be more forthcoming in their discussions. This is key to ensuring a lawyer can provide adequate representation.

When Attorney-Client Privilege Applies

It’s worth noting there is no universal definition of attorney-client privilege. Thus, there are rare instances when it may be unclear whether attorney-client privilege applies. 

However, it typically is enforced in the following circumstances:

  • When an individual sharing information with an attorney is a client or is attempting to become a client;
  • When the party with whom the information is shared is a member of the state bar, a court, or otherwise works for a court or bar member;
  • When the individual with whom the information is shared is operating as an attorney;
  • When a client has claimed attorney-client privilege.

That last point is important. Clients can choose to waive attorney-client privilege. That said, an attorney cannot share potentially sensitive information unless they are absolutely certain a client has waived this privilege. In fact, an attorney will usually ask for written confirmation of the waiver before disclosing confidential information.

Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege

There are potential scenarios in which an attorney can share sensitive information without violating attorney-client privilege arrangements. For example, if keeping certain information private would allow a client to continue committing crimes or fraud, an attorney does not have to keep a client’s secrets. There are also instances when the shareholders of a corporation can retrieve information that may have been shared with attorneys.

Those are just two examples. Depending on the nature of your case, you might want to discuss this topic with your lawyer in greater detail. They can help you better understand when they do and don’t need to keep the information you share with the secret.

What is most important to understand is that attorney-client privilege arrangements can play a significant role in the outcome of your case. For example, perhaps you were involved in a slip and fall accident in Florida. Under Florida law, the amount of compensation you may recover could be limited by your degree of fault for the accident. 

It may be possible for an insurance company to argue that your own negligence was a critical factor in causing your injuries. Your attorney needs to be prepared for such arguments and tactics. If you speak with them about how your actions might have put you in harm’s way, they can build a stronger case. It is more difficult for a lawyer to assist you if they are blindsided by information.

Just remember, this was merely a general overview. You should ask your attorney about how this privilege applies to your case if you still have questions about it.

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