THE “ATTORNEY-CLIENT” PRIVILEGE: How, When (and Why) the Communications between You and Your Attorney are Protected – Part 1

This blog is one of a two-part series regarding perhaps the most important aspect of the attorney-client relationship — the attorney-client privilege. So, what is it and why is the privilege so important? In short, the attorney-client privilege is a legal doctrine that protects communications between a client and his or her attorney. Unlike most other relationships, the privilege stays in place even after the relationship is terminated. The purpose of the privilege is to allow clients to have open and honest communications with their attorney. LSA-L.C.E. art. 506. However, not all communications between a client and attorney are privileged and certain requirements must be met for the privilege to attach.

-Existence of Attorney-Client Relationship. An attorney-client relationship must be in place. Louisiana law does not require that the attorney be formally retained or payment made for the privilege to attach. The privilege may apply even when the client merely discusses a legal matter with an attorney when the client reasonably believes the attorney is acting as his or her attorney.

-Confidential Communications. While the communication can take many forms (oral, written, digital, etc.) it is protected only if it was intended to be confidential, which generally means that the communication was not intended to be disclosed to others not involved in the attorney-client relationship or the legal representation.  For example, if a client meets with his attorney and brings a friend along, then the meeting may not be protected by the privilege. Because the privilege is for the protection of the client, the client may choose to intentionally waive the privilege, or may do so inadvertently through their actions.

-Legal Services. The communication must be related to obtaining or facilitating the legal services offered by the attorney. The privilege has been held to apply to the employees of the attorney and sometimes experts retained to assist in the case.

When applicable, the attorney-client privilege applies not only to what was said, but also to your attorney’s observations of your mental, emotional, and physical state at the time you communicate. The privilege does not generally apply to information gathered by the attorney from other sources; however, another doctrine, the “work product” doctrine, may nevertheless protect such information.

It is important that clients understand that the privilege does not apply merely because the client chooses to involve the attorney in the communication. Generally, the privilege only applies when the communication was intended as confidential and to further the legal services offered by the attorney. In this way, the client may not be allowed to utilize the privilege where they include the attorney in a communication with a third-party that is not otherwise protected.

While the attorney-client privilege safeguards the attorney-client relationship, ensures that clients can tell their attorney the things they need to know about a case, and assists the attorney to provide the best legal help possible, it is also subject to restrictions. These restrictions are explored in Part 2 of this series.