Attorney-client privilege is a rule that protects both attorneys and their clients from disclosing confidential communications vital for the purposes of furnishing or obtaining legal advice or assistance.
This protection is intended to encourage clients to give their lawyers all possible information – including some that is possibly embarrassing or damaging – relevant to their legal problem. Full communication enables lawyers to determine what is or is not relevant to their clients’ case. The confidentiality rule protects clients from being penalized for consulting with lawyers and telling their lawyers as much as possible about their legal matter. Attorney-client privilege may be raised during any type of legal proceeding, and at any time during those proceedings – including pre- and post-trial.
The information given by clients to their lawyers in the lawyer-client relationship is protected as follows:
- Confidentiality – Legal ethics preclude lawyers from voluntarily revealing information that relates to representation of their clients without the express or implied consent of those clients.
- Attorney-Client Privilege – Lawyers also cannot be compelled to reveal client communication under the rules that govern the introduction of evidence in court. Keep in mind, though, that this only applies when a client communicates confidentially with a lawyer to obtain legal service.
- Work Product – In addition, lawyers generally cannot be compelled to reveal written material created while they were preparing their client’s case for trial. Legal research, notes of witness interviews and meetings with other lawyers produce written material called “work product.” This material is protected from disclosure by criminal and civil procedure rules.
These protections apply to business or organizational clients as well as natural persons, and they also extend to electronic communications such as email, fax, text messages and video conferences. The Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that attorney-client privilege also applies to a public records inquiry – that is, information protected by attorney-client privilege can be exempted from records provided pursuant to such an inquiry.