If you are ringing in the new year with a lawsuit, you may have some questions about the terms of your contract. If your lawyer promises client-confidentiality it means that your attorney can not disclose confidential information about you to a third party. However, how do you know for sure? Are there any loopholes?
What Is Client Confidentiality?
You may be wondering why this rule is enforced in courts. According to the American Bar Association, the fundamental principle behind the client-lawyer relationship is that the client can then communicate fully and frankly with the lawyer even as to embarrassing or legally damaging subject matter. This open communication and trust then allows for the lawyer to give the best advice for their client.
This promise is expected to be held true even after the job is over. In fact, even if the client dies a client’s confidentiality privilege is expected to be upheld. However, similar to most lawsuits, there are exceptions. (United States v. White, 970 F.2d 328 (7th Cir. 1992); Swidler & Berlin v. United States, 524 U.S. 399 (1998).)
When Does Client Confidentiality Not Apply?
According to Rosenbaum Injury Firm, “there are three types of information given by a client to an attorney that cannot remain confidential. These include criminal evidence, perjury and threats.”
- Criminal Evidence: A lawyer may have to show the court an item or information proffered to make the existence of a fact more or less probable. Evidence can take the form of testimony, documents, photographs, videos, voice recordings, DNA testing, or other tangible objects.
- Perjury: An attorney can not provide a witness or evidence that is intentionally lying or providing false information to the courts. This is a part of their civic duty to the justice of the courts.
- Threats: A lawyer must report any threats or harms made by a client in an effort to keep everyone safe.
The crime-fraud exception is another case where confidentiality does not apply. This scenario includes when a client shows intent to cover up a crime or commit fraud. Ethically, lawyers have to report this, or they risk getting in trouble or losing their license.
Unintentional Confidentiality Waivers
There are possible scenarios that your confidentiality could be broken without your lawyer’s intention. For example, if you expose information on paper or over text, and someone finds it. Also, if you discuss terms in public and someone overhears you. If this is something of concern to you, it would be to your advantage to discuss it with your lawyer.
The terms of a client- confidentiality agreement somewhat differ between state to state, and between state and federal court. This is another reason why it is important to explicitly ask your lawyer before discussing any terms you don’t want to be leaked.
You may be cautious of whether or not to trust your attorney, and the best thing to do is educate yourself. There are exceptions and accidents, but the forefront of a good attorney and client relationship is rooted in trust. Whether you are looking for compensation or defense, make sure you pick the right attorney for you.