If you are thinking about consulting an attorney regarding your divorce or other domestic relations matter, you may already know that your communications with him/her are protected. However, it is important to know what type of protection the law affords clients (and potential clients) and what this means for you. There are two main sources of protection for clients: the attorney-client privilege and the ethical duty of confidentiality.
Attorney-Client Privilege vs. Confidentiality:
The attorney-client privilege stems from rules of evidence and protects the client against having third parties compelling his/her attorney to disclose the content of attorney-client communications (oral or written) made for the purpose of getting legal advice or assistance in a legal matter. Simply put, if you are a client or potential client of a licensed attorney and you share information to get legal advice or assistance, the privilege will protect your communications from being divulged to others without your permission. This privilege may be asserted in formal discovery or even in court to keep these communications private.
On the other hand, the duty of confidentiality stems from the rules of professional conduct and has a broader application. While the attorney-client privilege protects communications between you and the attorney, the duty of confidentiality generally bars attorneys from revealing information they learn that relates to their representation of their clients unless they have permission from the client to disclose it. This includes information learned from sources other than the client. For example, if an attorney learns information about the client during interviews with potential witnesses, while not privileged, that information is within the scope of the duty of confidentiality.
What this means for you as a client:
Generally, both the attorney-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality are there to strengthen your relationship with your attorney. By building trust so that you may comfortably share information with your attorney, they enable your attorney to better provide appropriate advice based on the complete and accurate information that you share. As a client in a divorce or other family matter, it is important to keep the following in mind: