What are the 4 elements of attorney-client privilege?

One of the expectations you have when you hire a California attorney is that (s)he will maintain the confidentiality of whatever you tell him or her. This is known as the attorney-client privilege and means that, by law and through the Rules of Professional Responsibility, your attorney cannot and must not reveal confidential information you have given to him or her to third parties without your consent.

Should your attorney fail to maintain the confidentiality of your verbal and written communications to him or her, you can sue for malpractice. However, as Southern Methodist University explains, in order to prevail in your malpractice lawsuit, you will have to prove the following four elements

  1. That the information your attorney revealed actually was a communication from you to him or her
  2. That at the time you gave him or her the information, you had actually hired him or her as your attorney
  3. That you gave him or her this information in confidence
  4. That you gave him or her this information for the purpose of seeking and/or obtaining his or her legal assistance

Importance of the privilege

The attorney-client privilege has been a cornerstone of the law throughout history. Its purpose, as you might expect, is to encourage full, frank communication between a client and the attorney whose duty it is to represent the client to the best of his or her ability. Naturally, the more information the client gives the attorney, the better able the attorney becomes to competently do his or her job.

Your responsibility

While it might seem at first blush that the responsibility to maintain strict confidentiality rests totally with your attorney, this is not true. You, too, bear part of the responsibility. For instance, if you want something you say to him or her to be kept absolutely confidential between the two of you, make sure you do not say it in front of a third or more others.

In this day of readily available electronic communication, you have an even higher responsibility. Even though most emails and text messages fall within the attorney-client privilege, you should nevertheless be extremely cautious about any information you reveal to your attorney via either of these two methods. The same holds true for any information you reveal to him or her over the telephone.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.