Attorney-client Privilege, Explained

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The attorney-client privilege is one of the oldest privileges recognized in American jurisprudence. In fact, the privilege originated in the Roman Republic and was used as early as the 1500s in English law. In short, the privilege seeks to bar any testimony by an attorney against her client, and it protects both oral and written communications.

Why does the privilege exist?

The privilege works to assuage the fears of those seeking legal advice that their statements will later be revealed or used against them in court. It creates a zone of privacy, allowing a client to express to her lawyer all relevant information concerning her case. The privilege grants clients the freedom to speak openly, which in turn allows their attorneys to have a greater understanding of the issues and become better advocates for their clients.

What does it mean in practice?

The privilege means that an attorney may never be compelled to disclose statements provided to her in confidence by a client seeking legal counsel. She also may not voluntarily disclose such statements. Additionally, the client himself may not be forced to disclose statements he made to his counsel for the purpose of seeking legal counsel.

When does it apply?

For the privilege to come into play, there must be an attorney-client relationship and then the following four requirements must exist:

  1. A communication;
  2. Made between privileged individuals;
  3. In confidence;
  4. For the purpose of seeking, obtaining, or providing legal advice.

An attorney-client relationship exists, generally, once a client has requested legal services from counsel and counsel has agreed to perform those legal services. There must be a mutual understanding that the relationship has formed.

There are also a number of exceptions to the attorney-client privilege-times in which the privilege does not apply-and a few of these will be discussed in our next blog.

If you would like to speak with an experienced attorney about a legal issue you may be facing regarding divorce, family law, personal injury, or criminal law, please call our Concord, NC office today.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered or substituted as legal advice.