Breaking Down Attorney-Client Privilege: What it Means and How it Can Affect Your Case

By Peter DePaolis

Finding the right attorney for your legal concerns can feel daunting. As part of that process, there is a level of confidentiality that most clients expect when meeting with an attorney. This confidentiality is known as attorney-client privilege, and our Virginia personal injury attorneys take this very seriously.

What is Attorney-Client Privilege?

Attorney-client privilege is a bar against forcing attorneys to disclose their communications with their clients and vice versa. So, an attorney can’t be made to testify against a client, and the client can’t be made to disclose what may have been discussed with their attorney. This allows a client to be candid with their attorney about all pertinent information about their personal injury case. In return, the attorney can represent their client as effectively as possible. 

How is Attorney-Client Privilege Established?

Attorney-client privilege is established when a person or persons seek legal advice from an attorney and, in the process, share confidential information with the attorney. Once this privilege is in effect, it does not end unless waived. The attorney-client privilege:

  • Is established once the client and attorney agree to representation- the client must hire the attorney, and the attorney must agree to represent the client.
  • A broad category of communication is protected as long as it is meant to be confidential. This includes anything the attorney and client discuss orally, in writing, or electronically. Examples include phone calls, in-person discussions, emails, letters, faxes, and electronic messages.
  • It does not have an expiration date. So, even if the legal representation is complete, the privilege remains intact, and a lawyer shall not reveal their client’s confidences.

If you do not wish to lose the benefit of attorney-client privilege, you need to safeguard it. Engaging in particular behavior can waive attorney-client privilege and jeopardize the confidentiality of your communications. Including someone else in your discussions with your attorney or making certain communications public knowledge are examples of how attorney-client privilege is deemed “waived”. 

It would be best if you thought twice about bringing friends or family to meetings with your attorney, posting information about your legal situation online, etc.

What is Not Covered in the Privilege

The attorney-client privilege does not cover some things. Attorneys have an ethical obligation to uphold the law. In these situations, the attorney may have to advise the client of the legal ramifications of their actions and may have to report the information. Examples of non-covered communications are:

  • the client informs the attorney that they intend to commit a crime
  •  the client tells the attorney that they have committed fraud in the case
  • the client intentionally waives the privilege for a particular person or in a legal proceeding
  • the attorney affirms they do not represent whoever is claiming a privilege exists

Virginia law also provides specific circumstances where disclosure may be needed in Rule 1.6. of The Virginia State Bar Professional Guidelines. This includes, but is not limited to, disclosing information necessary to comply with the law or court order, establishing a defense for the client, and protecting a client. If you have a question about how the attorney-client privilege in Virginia works in a personal injury case, contact us today to schedule a consultation.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.