Breaking Down Attorney-Client Privilege: What It Means and How It Can Affect Your Case

Attorney-client privilege is a fundamental legal protection that allows for confidential communication between a lawyer and their client. It grants the client the assurance that any conversations they have with their attorney in connection to legal representation are kept private, except under certain circumstances. This privilege typically extends beyond verbal interactions and includes written documents or emails as well.

For the attorney-client privilege to apply, the following criteria typically must be met: 

  1. The communication was made between privileged persons—the lawyer and client—in confidence. 
  2. This communication was kept in confidence, meaning that no one else was present during the conversation or aware of its contents. 
  3. The purpose of this conversation was to seek, obtain, or provide legal assistance to the client. 

Continue reading for additional information regarding this critical legal principle.

When Is the Attorney-Client Relationship Formed?

The attorney-client relationship usually, but not always, begins when the client expresses an interest in retaining the attorney for legal representation. This means that even the initial consultation should be privileged. However, it is best to confirm this with the lawyer at the onset of your meeting to ensure your communications will be protected.

Once a contract or retainer agreement has been signed between both parties, there’s no question that privilege applies. Nonetheless, it generally starts before a contract is officially signed, even if you ultimately do not hire the attorney you had a consultation with.

The Purpose of Attorney-Client Privilege

The purpose of attorney-client privilege is to encourage open communication between those seeking legal advice and their representation. Without this protection, individuals may be hesitant to fully disclose pertinent information to their lawyers for fear of it becoming part of the public record.

With attorney-client privilege, clients have the assurance that anything discussed in confidence with their lawyer won’t be used against them later in court. Additionally, lawyers can use this privileged status as a basis to refuse to disclose information or testimony during proceedings or investigations should the question arise.

Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege

There are certain exceptions to attorney-client privilege that allow or require attorneys to share confidential information with third parties. The following are the most common scenarios where attorney-client privilege does not apply:

The Crime Fraud Exception 

One exception to the attorney-client privilege is the crime-fraud exception. If you tell your lawyer that you plan to commit or cover up a crime or fraud, your lawyer is not legally required to keep this information confidential. In these cases, your lawyer may actually be forced by law to disclose the information if they believe it will aid in an investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. 

Prison Phone Calls 

An additional exception to attorney-client privilege concerns conversations that take place between an attorney and their client while the client is incarcerated. Inmates in prison may be monitored and recorded as part of routine security procedures, and this includes phone calls. Both clients and lawyers are well aware that all phone calls are recorded, so courts have ruled that all prison phone calls between attorneys and inmates are not privileged

Presence of a Third Party During the Conversation 

Another exception involves conversations that take place in the presence of a third party who is not involved in the case. If someone other than the lawyer or client is present during a confidential conversation, information shared in that conversation no longer qualifies as privileged communication and may be used as evidence in court if necessary. Therefore, it’s advisable to speak with your lawyer without any third parties present to ensure confidentiality. 

If a Lawyer Knows The Client Plans To Lie When Testifying

The first thing an experienced lawyer should do when they learn of their client’s plan is to try and persuade them not to give false testimony. They can emphasize the potential consequences they could face if they are caught, such as charges of perjury.

If they still refuse or become uncooperative, then it may be necessary for the lawyer to advise the court of their client’s intentions and remove themselves as the attorney of record. 


Another exception arises in some circumstances when the client passes away. If upon the death of a client, litigation takes place between their heirs, courts will sometimes require the attorney to break privilege to provide relevant information. 

Protect Your Rights With the Help of an Experienced San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer

Attorney-client privilege is an important concept in the legal system that helps protect confidential communications between lawyers and their clients from being used as evidence in court proceedings. If you need help or have any questions about legal proceedings, contact us today to schedule a free consultation. 

Contact the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm of Mission Personal Injury Lawyers Today To Get More Information

If you’ve been injured in San Diego or Chula Vista, please call Mission Personal Injury Lawyers for a free case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer or contact us online.

We proudly serve San Diego County and throughout California.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers
2515 Camino del Rio S Suite 350, San Diego, CA 92108

(619) 777-5555

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – Chula Vista Office
690 Otay Lakes Rd #130, Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 722-3032

We also serve the state of Texas. Contact our personal injury law office in El Paso for legal assistance today.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – El Paso Office
201 E Main Suite 106, El Paso, Texas 79901
(915) 591-1000