Attorney-client confidentiality refers to special protection of disclosed information that prevents lawyers from sharing said information with third parties, even if they are so compelled by high-ranking government and law officials to do so.

Introduction to Attorney-Client Confidentiality

When a client's sensitive information falls into the hands of people that shouldn't have it, their sense of security is understandably compromised. When you hire an attorney to help you with a legal issue and prepare to meet them for the first time, it's understandable to be concerned about whether or not you should share certain information with them.

While it's pretty common knowledge that lawyers are subject to a concept known as attorney-client confidentiality, sometimes referred to as attorney-client privilege, it's normal to worry about whether or not they can be persuaded to share that information with another party. For example, what could really stop them from sharing information you have disclosed to them as a testimony in court? These concerns may not be entirely misplaced. In fact, your concerns are quite commonplace and have enough validity to them that are legal concepts that deal specifically with this matter. Those concepts are referred to as attorney-client confidentiality.

The business world can be quite competitive and rather complicated, with people like technical experts and consultants getting caught up in the mix. Smart business owners serve themselves well by considering the advantages of having legal counsel on retainer. The nature of attorney-client confidentiality provides a distinct right to protect communications from being disclosed to third parties that most clients find invaluable. This protection extends to prevent attorneys from sharing disclosed information with:

  • Business associates
  • Competing companies
  • Government agencies
  • Criminal justice authorities

Attorney-client confidentiality is among the oldest privileges that are recognized by Anglo-American jurisprudence. The principles of attorney-client confidentiality privileges, in fact, can be traced back as far as ancient Rome. The concept was later adopted in early British law during the 16th century, while Queen Elizabeth I was in power.

Definition of Attorney-Client Confidentiality

Attorney-client confidentiality and attorney-client privilege means any information you choose to disclose to your attorney that is relevant to the case at hand is confidential and is subject to privilege. In essence, this means your attorney is prohibited from sharing or being compelled to share information that you disclose to them with a third party, even if the party in question is a government or law enforcement official. Except under certain circumstances, your attorney can't willingly testify about any communications between you and them if those communications fall within the context of the relationship you share with your attorney.

Attorney-client confidentiality is a powerful concept that continues even after the relationship between you and your attorney has formally come to an end. The protections that attorney-client confidentiality provide exist as a means to encourage what is known by the United States Supreme Court as "full and frank" disclosure between a client and their attorney. If you're dishonest and fail to be completely open with your lawyer regarding the facts pertaining to your case, your lawyer won't be able to provide you with the kind of legal counsel and representation you need and deserve.

Normally, attorney-client confidentiality applies whenever an individual has a conversation with an attorney with the intent of getting advice of a legal nature, even if that person is only a potential client and has not yet officially retained the lawyer's services. Even if the attorney and the client, or potential client, know each other on a personal basis, the attorney is expected to act as an attorney and not in any other capacity, such as a business advisor. In addition, the client must understand that the information they have communicated is confidential in nature. If either of these is not true, attorney-client confidentiality may not apply.

In the simplest terms possible, attorney-client confidentiality is a set of rules that preserve the confidential nature of communication between attorneys and their clients. These rules prevent lawyers from sharing the secrets of their clients, as well as prohibiting others from attempting to force them to do so.

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