I have one question to ask, loudly and indignantly – “Is nothing sacred?” This question comes on the heels of a recent podcast we made regarding attorney-client privilege and the people who would abuse the lack of knowledge surrounding the topic. I’m here to set the record straight.
Attorney-client privilege, as detailed by Cornell Law, is defined as follows:
A legal privilege that works to keep communications between an attorney and his or her client secret. The privilege is asserted in the face of a legal demand for the communications, such as a discovery request or a demand that the lawyer testify under oath.
The first thing I want to point out about attorney-client privilege is that it is a privilege. This means – contrary to what many “tax resolution firms” would want you to believe – it can be taken away if certain requirements are not met. It’s not attorney-client cone of permanent confidentiality (which frankly sounds ridiculous). So, in order to cement a better understanding of attorney-client privilege, we’re going to take a look at what it is, what it does (and doesn’t) cover, and what advantages law firms enjoy under the privilege.
What is it?
With companies like Sovereign Management and Legal, LTD. spreading false information, it’s imperative that people understand just what attorney-client privilege is.
Simply put, attorney-client privilege is a barrier. Not only is it way to ensure that the information you disclose is kept safe, but it’s also a way to keep your attorney from turning on you or caving to demands by the opposition/Department of Justice. As Cornell Law detailed, it is “asserted in the face of a legal demand,” most notably when the opposition is asking for a discovery request or wanting an attorney to testify against their client. Do you know how many cases would be improperly resolved if attorneys had free reign to testify against their clients? What is said in the privacy of a law office should remain private.
While it’s necessary to have this barrier in place for the legal system to work properly, there’s something just as important that it guarantees – trust. Without the idea of confidentiality in place, building trust can be an uphill battle. Clients wouldn’t feel comfortable telling their lawyer anything as it could be used against them in the future. If that was the entirety of what attorney-client privilege details, we would be able to end this article here and call it a day. But things are rarely that simple.
What does it cover/not cover?
Alright, so now that we have a basic idea of what attorney-client privilege is, we can take a look at what it covers.
Here’s the skinny – if what you’re disclosing has already happened, you’re usually in the clear. While as telling your attorney that you committed the crime might not always be the best idea, you’re covered under attorney-client privilege. Pretty simple? You bet.
But there’s an important exception that dissolves attorney-client privilege. If a client seeks the attorney’s help in furthering or covering up their crime, they can wave goodbye to whatever privilege they had. If you tell your lawyer that you’re considering any type of illegal action, you are no longer covered and they have an ethical duty to report what has been said.
An easy way to proceed is to disclose information that has already happened and to stop any thoughts about further legal activity in their tracks. That’s what it takes to enjoy an environment of confidentiality with your lawyer.
What advantages do law firms enjoy?
Attorney-client privilege is only in effect for attorneys and those working with them. That means that any CPA, tax resolution firm, or company offering attorney-client confidentiality without employing attorneys is lying through their teeth. When dealing with the IRS, it’s important to know that hired representation– unless you’ve employed a law firm – can testify against you with no legal recourse.
However, when contacting a law firm that employs attorneys, your information is protected by all members of that firm. As with my firm, calling an attorney’s office has you covered with all interactions along the way. From calling in and speaking to an intake specialist, discussing your returns with a tax preparer, and then discussing strategy with an attorney, your information is kept private. You can call me old-fashioned, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Attorney-client privilege matters. It’s the wall that separates your private words from the Department of Justice; it’s not something to be undervalued. For an attorney, building a solid defense is predicated on having all of the necessary information. That means a client has to trust you enough to give you the information you need. While attorney-client privilege doesn’t necessarily create instant trust, it provides an environment for trust to thrive.
If you’ve been fleeced into working with a firm that offers attorney-client privilege without having any attorneys present, it’s important that you get out of that situation as soon as possible. Attorney-client privilege can only happen when there is an attorney present. Ask these firms if they have attorneys and push to get some credentials. If your representation has lied to you about their abilities to invoke attorney-client privilege, what is going to stop them from testifying against you?