Solicitor-Client Privilege

When consulting with a legal professional, employers and employees are often confused as to which conversations are protected by their relationship with their lawyer. Understanding solicitor-client privilege helps clients to maintain an honest an open relationship with their lawyer to get the best advice possible.

As legal professionals, we want no stone unturned. Having all the facts laid out on the table will help us avoid nasty surprises, and to construct the best arguments for your case. Sometimes, however, clients want to avoid looking bad, so they are worried about telling their whole story. Solicitor-client privilege allows clients to be honest and open about their matter, without the fear of that information not being kept confidential. 

Confidentiality vs Privilege

Confidentiality

Confidentiality refers to the duty to maintain the secrecy of a client’s matter, including any disclosures made or documents exchanged regarding legal advice. Your lawyer does not have the discretion to disclose your discussions concerning legal advice, but you do.

Lawyers may hire agents like law clerks, accountants, and support staff to assist them in providing you with legal advice and the coverage of confidentiality extends to these individuals as well. The disclosure of confidential client information to these parties is not an automatic violation of solicitor-client confidentiality, but some situations may constitute a violation, depending on what information is disclosed.

An Exception to Confidentiality

Confidentiality can be revoked where there is an imminent risk to an identifiable person or a group. In such circumstances, legal professionals may disclose confidential information, but it must be to the minimum extent necessary to prevent such harm. Your confidentiality still applies to the rest of the information discussed with your lawyer. These situations are fortunately rare, and your lawyer should advise you of potential hazards that could require disclosure.

Privilege

Solicitor-client privilege is the most common form of privileged communication and it attaches to documents and discussions that are between a lawyer and their client. This information is intended to be kept confidential and must be for the main purpose of obtaining legal advice. The privileged status of this confidential communication allows clients to openly discuss relevant information with their lawyer without needing to worry about any future prejudice to their legal matter. This privilege is a rule of law that protects clients from being compelled to disclose the legal advice they received and prevents opposing parties from calling upon their lawyer to give testimony.

Clients of all types should know that solicitor-client privilege belongs to them. This is one of the strongest forms of privilege recognized by the courts and it extends even beyond the death of a client.

Exceptions to Privilege

While solicitor-client privilege is powerful, it is not absolute. Lawyers may be compelled by a court to disclose information about their client and the advice provided where certain conditions are met.

The most common way that solicitor-client privilege may be revoked by a court is when a client discloses the confidential information to a third party or the general public. Social media is a common point of vulnerability for keeping such information confidential and clients should ensure that they do not inadvertently harm their own case by disclosing details online.

Lawyers may also be required to disclose privileged information about their clients where that information relates to the commission of a crime. This is an often-misunderstood exception to privilege. You can absolutely discuss the legality of proposed or past actions with your lawyer and that information will be kept confidential.

However, the privilege of keeping that information confidential will be deemed invalid when the lawyer participates in the act that they know is illegal. Essentially, a client’s lawyer cannot help their client engage in the commission of a crime—these communications will not be protected by solicitor-client privilege. These situations are also rare, but they are worth noting.

Contact Us for Help

Overall, the confidential relationship between a lawyer and their client is well protected by the courts, such that both employers and employees should feel comfortable to disclose any information necessary to help their case. However, your lawyer will be able to tell you in detail when an exception may apply to your case. If you are an employer or an employee wanting to know more about your rights and obligations, our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers can help. Contact us at 1 (800) 771-7882, or email [email protected], and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, visit our CLO program page for our strategic solutions.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call 1-(800)771-7882, or email [email protected].

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