Penalty for Breaking Attorney-Client Privilege | An Expert Guide
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The attorney-client privilege is a term that defines a specific set of rules that people must follow out since Anglo-American times. Most complex businesses require that an attorney be retained for legal decisions and transactions between branches or different firms. The term attorney-client privilege means that the attorney has to keep everything the client talks about a secret.
The information needs to be confidential from even the business partners and the law enforcement authorities. But what if the attorney decides to break this agreement? Then what would be the penalty for breaking the attorney-client privilege?
This is an agreement that you can’t reveal to anyone. We will discuss the penalties and sanctions later on in this document, so please keep reading!
What happens When Attorney-Client Privilege is Broken?
An ((attorney-client privilege)) is an official contract between the client and their lawyer that both parties can never break. This agreement promises to protect everything from communication in confidence. It also referrals for future needs or other business interests. Moreover, respecting each party’s right not to share what they learn whilst working together with this legal professional. The partner firm member networking group is a related networking support system that scaffolds the structure framework solution.
Attorney-client privilege belongs solely to the employer, and the attorney has no say in it. Any communication between the attorney and client must be confidential, which is a legal right. However, this only applies if they are talking directly with each other. There’s no need for an intermediary like in-person or phone conversations do not create any confidentiality concerns when communicating over email as all messages (including attachments).
It can easily be read by someone on either end of these ((types of electronic communications)) without them ever having handled your case before in this case, which can waive confidentiality. There can be two possibilities that could lead to a broken client privilege contract.
One of them can be that someone broke the Contract from the client-side. An example of this can be when the conversation between the client and the attorney took place in public, someone overheard the conversation, and theyreveal the information. The other possibility could be that the attorney revealed the information on purpose, which is a direct violation of the Contract and can lead to serious sanctions.
Sanctions Imposed For Revealing Attorney-Client
Suppose an attorney reveals information regarding any confidential information that falls against the client or demeans a client. In that case, they can apply the following sanctions by the court against the attorney.
- The lawyer or the complete firm that employs the lawyer could be disqualified for disclosing the client’s confidence.
- The attorney could have his license permanently suspended for revealing sensitive or confidential information against the client.
- In some cases, disclosing the information of a client could lead to disbarment, suspension, or formal reprimand. So the client needs to focus on that aspect.
Abuse of business transactions lies in the same category as revealing confidential information, and the same sanctions also apply to that. These sanctions are obligatory, and one cannot ignore them. As a client and lawyer, you must follow the rules. Otherwise, sanctions will be applicable.
Limits of Attorney-Client Privilege
Attorney-client confidentiality may seem like an unbreachable iron door, but in reality, it is not. Certain conditions would waive the need to keep the communication between the client and the attorney confidential anymore. The conditions are these ones:
Crime fraud exception
If a client conveys some information about his indulgence in a crime or fraud, then the attorney has the right to disclose the information. Attorney-client confidentiality belongs to the client, and the attorney has little to no rights in this relationship or Contract. Crime fraud exception is a right the attorney has to use the information he has against the client. All this, if the client has the intention to commit a fraud or crime.
In case a client reveals information about a false testament or a statement by a crucial witness, then the client cannot expect the attorney to stay quiet about this. In this situation, it is up to the attorney what information they disclose. The judge can force them if they wish so. Still, usually, attorneys will have an obligation under law and ethics to protect their client’s identity and maintain confidentiality during proceedings.
If a client reveals some information that could turn the direction of a case, then the attorney has the right to disclose the information. The location of a missing person or a crucial witness could also fall in the category of crucial information, and the attorney has the right to reveal it.
If a client threatens to harm a witness, a judge, or the attorney himself, then attorney-client confidentiality does not apply in this case. In this case, the attorney has the right to report this incident to the relevant authorities, including the law enforcement authorities.
Life or death
If an attorney gets hold of some information that could prove to be a matter of life or death, the attorney can legally disclose that part of the information.
The client’s information conveyed to the attorney needs to be kept confidential. However the question arises: What is confidential information? Just like Communication consists of not just verbal communication but also informal communication. Similarly, confidential information doesn’t have to be spoken or written to be preserved or kept confidential.
For example, Jonas and Carla are having a conversation about to sell their stocks at the market price or not. They decide what they think is best for themselves and know that this might affect others, so everyone must have an idea of where each other stands in these kinds of decisions? Jonas nods his head to confirm that yes; you can sell the stocks at a lower rate. You can take this nod as a gesture implying the term yes.
Learn More: How Do Lawyers Decide To Take A Case
Now let’s suppose that Carla is an attorney and Jonas is looking for financial advice on whether to sell his stocks at a lower rate or not to pay his debts. After confirming all the facts and reassuring the attorney, he nods in a way that implies that he said yes.
The attorney-client confidentiality implies that even this information in the form of a nod has to be confidential. So confidential information can be any form of communication between the attorney and the client, whether verbal or non-verbal.
Frequently Asked Question
Is it a crime to break attorney-client privilege?
The attorney-client privilege is the honor of an attorney. The attorney must be in a legal contract to uphold and protect the client’s information. Also, to keep the conversation between him and the client secret. It is most definitely a crime to break this Contract, and the client could sue both the attorney and his firm for this breach of information. The court could overrule from here, and the law firm could be disqualified while the attorney could have his license suspended.
Are there exceptions to attorney-client privilege?
A few exceptions in the attorney-client privilege contract could wave the Contract and allow the attorney to disclose the information they have been withholding. Some of the exceptions that you may find are:
- Crime fraud exception: When the client has the intention to commit a crime.
- Perjury: When the client participates in a fake testimony or the use of a fake witness.
- Crucial Information: When the client shares information that could be a matter of life and death for someone.
- Threats: When a client threatens to harm a judge, a witness, or the attorney.
How do you break attorney-client privilege?
To break attorney-client privilege could be a crime, and the court can implement serious sanctions on the law firm and the attorney for breaking such a contract. For information, the parties can break this Contract by having someone present at the conversation between the client and the attorney. Another way to break the attorney-client Contract is to disclose the information to a third party, resulting in the immediate dissolution of the Contract.
What is the attorney-client privilege rule?
The attorney-client privilege rule is never to disclose information shared between a client and an attorney. The shared information involves verbal and non-verbal, along with any form of a written document. Even a simple nod could be information that needs protection for the client.
When can you claim legal professional privilege?
You can claim a legal professional privilege at the time of presenting information in front of a court or judge. If a party presents the information containing a part that falls under LPP, you don’t require (legally speaking) to present that part of the document. That part of the information belongs solely to the client. He has the right not to disclose the information in front of anyone. So the client has the right to claim LPP when presenting documents or information to the court.
The conclusion from the above-stated facts is that the attorney-client privilege contract belongs solely to the client, and the attorney has to abide by it in any case. The attorney-client relationship is a sacred trust. To maintain this priceless bond, it must remain confidential and never revealed outside. It’s important to take care of the small details. All this, if you want your conversations with clients and attorneys not to be compromised.
This is especially true when there is no wrongdoing on their behalf! The Contract should be sacred for the attorney, and they should know that any violation of it could lead to permanent suspension of their practice license, and the client is also allowed to sue the firm for which the client works. This concludes that in this Contract, the client has absolute authority, and the attorney works for the client’s benefit by the client.
I’m a driven and accomplished law graduate and post-graduate, passionate about sharing my legal expertise via my blog. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of London (UK) and a Master’s in Law from the University of Derby (UK). Both gave me the foundational knowledge and skills to excel in my chosen career path.
Throughout my academic journey, I have gained extensive knowledge in various fields of Law, including Corporate and Business Law in the USA, Criminal Law, International Law, US Copyright law, and most importantly, American Constitutional law.