In the United States, the attorney-client privilege is a rule that ensures confidentiality in communication between attorneys and clients. Under this precept, lawyers cannot divulge their clients’ secrets, nor can others force them to do so. The purpose of the privilege is to encourage clients to share information openly with their attorneys and to allow attorneys to provide the most effective representation possible.
In general, the attorney-client privilege applies when:
– A client or potential client contacts a lawyer for legal advice.
– The attorney is acting in her professional capacity (rather than, for example, as a friend), and when the client intended the conversations to be private and acted accordingly.
– Lawyers may not reveal oral or written conversations with their clients that they expect to be private. An attorney who has received confidentiality from a client may not repeat it to anyone outside the legal team without the client’s consent. In that sense, the privilege belongs to the client, not the lawyer: the client can decide to lose (or waive) the privilege, but the lawyer cannot.
The privilege generally remains in effect after the attorney-client relationship ends and the client dies. In other words, the attorney can never divulge client secrets without the client’s permission unless an exception applies.
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