When a client hires an attorney, trust must be established. This is particularly when the client is accused, and may be guilty, of a heinous crime like murder or rape. In order for a lawyer to properly defend a client, they need to have all the facts no matter how embarrassing they may be.
This is why attorney client privilege exists. Only when the client knows they can tell their lawyer the whole story without fear of embarrassment or exposure can they fully trust their lawyer.
Attorney client privilege isn’t a foreign concept for most people, but it’s important to know the ins and outs of this extremely important legal precedent.
There are three broad instances when this privilege applies.
- The client asks the lawyer for legal advice about their case.
- The lawyer interacts with the client in a professional capacity.
- The client communicates with their attorney with the intention and expectation of privacy.
This privilege is intended for the benefit of the client and therefore can only be broken by the client. The attorney can not decide to forfeit this privilege, but the client can.
Time has no effect on privilege, meaning it continues after the case is settled and even after the client dies.
Prospective clients are typically covered by privilege, which allows clients to talk with attorneys who may not represent them in the end. There’s a bit of grey area here, clients are encouraged to confirm that privilege is in effect when communicating with prospective lawyers.
As with all rules, there’s an exception to this one. Privilege does not apply to crimes that will be committed in the future. Meaning clients can’t tell their lawyer that they’re planning to rob a bank and expect the lawyer to keep it quiet. Lawyers are permitted to alert authorities if they have information that could prevent a crime.