The Coveted Attorney-Client Privilege

The attorney-client privilege has been highlighted in recent years, as The Good WifeThe Lincoln Lawyer, and even Legally Blonde have put the concept at the center of major plotlines. Despite Hollywood’s recent hinging of storylines on the attorney-client privilege, it is one of the oldest, most coveted concepts in American law, dating back to early English common law.

Before talking with an attorney, you should be aware of the protections that both you and your lawyer have whenever you begin discussing divorce, trusts, wills, or any other legal issues.

Your Protections

In 1950, the attorney-client privilege became officially defined as the concept made its way through the courts in the United States v. United Shoe Machinery Corp. The court ruled that it is only the client who has the ability to waive the privilege. It is up to the client, not the attorney, to decide which information should stay confidential.

However, clients lose that privilege if they invite others to be present in the room during the conversation. You also comprise the privilege if you speak with your attorney loud enough for others to hear, such as in a public place.

The bottom line is that whenever you meet with an attorney, regardless if you hire that individual or not, your conversation is protected and is solely between you and the attorney. No one else can find out what was said. Additionally, because the attorney is legally bound not to divulge anything about the conversation, you’re only hurting yourself by leaving out any information. Tell your attorney everything right off the bat so the attorney can best assist you.

Your Lawyer’s Advice

The attorney-client privilege works both ways. What your lawyer tells you in terms of strategy, planning and expectations should also remain confidential. During a divorce, don’t share what your lawyer tells you with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, friends, or even your family. If you do share confidential information with your spouse, he or she could easily use that indiscretion against you and ask the court to rule that you have waived your attorney-client privilege, which would most certainly affect your case in a negative way.

Legality aside, telling friends and family about the legal advice you have received hardly ever turns out well. Rarely do your friends and family have a firm grasp on your circumstances or a firm understanding of the law. My advice? Avoid any conversation about your case except with your lawyer.