When you hire a lawyer to represent you in a case, most of what you tell them is confidential. In other words, they cannot tell anyone else about what you have discussed with them in private without first gaining your permission. This gives those being represented by lawyers the motive to be upfront and honest about everything they know about the case, even if it is embarrassing or if it could cause legal repercussions if said to anyone else.
There are some cases, however, when your lawyer can or must breach client confidentiality. However, before discussing the times when a lawyer may breach client confidentiality in California, it is important to understand the duty of confidentiality that your lawyer owes you.
What Is Attorney-Client Confidentiality, Exactly?
According to the Legal Information Institute, the official definition of attorney-client confidentiality, or privilege, is that it “works to keep confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client secret.” This privilege is also valid if a person is a prospective client going to a lawyer for legal advice, as long as it is reasonable that the prospective client takes what the lawyer says as sound legal advice and the lawyer does not try to convince them not to take what they say as legal advice. Before talking with a new lawyer, it is important that you ask ahead of time if your conversation will be confidential.
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When does Attorney-Client Privilege Apply?
In most cases, the attorney-client privilege is applicable when the following are true:
- A client, whether actual or prospective, seeks legal advice from a lawyer.
- The lawyer provides the legal advice in a professional manner (rather than as a friend or family member giving informal legal advice).
- The client wants the communication to be private and acts in a manner consistent with that desire.
Meeting in a public place, for example, could be considered behavior that does not demonstrate a desire for private communication. If you are seeking confidential communication with your lawyer, be sure to make it known before any conversations take place. As a result, your lawyer can advise you on the ways to ensure that your communications are and continue to stay private.
How Long does Attorney-Client Privilege Last?
Notably, attorney-client confidentiality stands even after a case has been concluded and the client no longer speaks with the lawyer. This is even true after the client dies; an attorney cannot disclose sensitive information without the client’s permission. There are some exceptions to this rule where your lawyer may be able to breach client confidentiality in California, but it is important to understand that as long as you hold up your end of the bargain in communicating with your lawyer, your lawyer is obligated to maintain your confidentiality.
However, there are some ways that attorney-client privilege can be forfeited. These include the following.
Talking with Your Lawyer in Public
If, while meeting with your lawyer, you discuss sensitive or secret topics in public, you may forfeit your attorney-client privilege, and your lawyer may be able to breach client confidentiality in California. Public spaces do not ensure privacy, and it is reasonable to assume that other people could hear what is being discussed. If you and your attorney are meeting in public, for whatever reason, it is important to avoid discussing potentially sensitive information.
Public locations do not always mean the local coffee shop, a restaurant, or the public library. In public can also refer to conversations that take place within the prison system, especially over the phone. Talking to your lawyer in a visiting area while other inmates are present, or discussing key details over the phone, can create a situation where anyone present may testify against you.
Divulging Private Information to Another Person
You may forfeit your attorney-client privilege if you tell other individuals (other than your attorney) about your case. For this reason, you should avoid sharing facts about your case with anyone besides your lawyer.
This also means that if you decide to involve other people in private conversations with your lawyer, your lawyer is no longer obligated to uphold client confidentiality. The only exceptions to this rule are spouses, or if the other person present is also being represented by your lawyer or is helping you with your case. Even if a lawyer can breach client confidentiality in California, most will not, but there is no longer a requirement that they keep your information secret.
If you ever want to have another person present at a private meeting with your lawyer, it is important to ask ahead of time if the presence of this other person will cause you to forfeit your attorney-client privilege.
Future Plans to Commit Crimes
If a client is represented by a lawyer for an upcoming court case, and if they tell their lawyer that they plan to commit a future crime, the lawyer may breach client-attorney privilege if they reasonably believe it can result in bodily harm to their client or another individual. This type of forfeiture is rare, but it does occasionally happen.
Another way that your lawyer may breach client confidentiality in California is if you express frustrations regarding another person in the form of physical threats. If your lawyer reasonably interprets your language and mannerisms as a threat to yourself or someone else, they can breach attorney-client privilege.
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Protect Yourself by Working with Simmrin Law Group
After being arrested and charged with a crime, many people are understandably hesitant about working with a lawyer. But if you need legal representation in Los Angeles, and you want it from lawyers who will do all they can not to breach client confidentiality in California, look no further than Simmrin Law Group.
At Simmrin Law Group, we understand that being accused of a crime is one of the most stressful things a person can go through. We will do everything in our power to help you, including doing all that we can to ensure that attorney-client privilege remains intact. If you are ready for a free, confidential case evaluation, please contact us today.