Did you know that there were more than 465,000 crimes reported in Florida in 2021? That means that there is also a lot of demand for the services of criminal defense lawyers. When you’re working with a white collar crime lawyer, one of the most important concepts to understand is attorney client privilege. This principle exists to make sure that everyone can receive quality representation when they are charged with a crime.

However, many people do not understand this principle and how it should inform how they speak with their attorney. The more you understand about attorney client privilege, the more freely you will feel able to speak with your legal counsel.

Read on to learn all about the most vital things to understand about attorney client privilege!

What Is Attorney-Client Privilege?

Attorney client privilege is a rule that applies to attorneys and their clients when they are dealing with litigation. Attorney client privilege establishes that your lawyer cannot tell anyone else anything confidential that you share with them. This applies to all kinds of communication, no matter how subtle.

Most people understand that attorney client privilege protects both speech as well as written messages to lawyers. However, it even protects communication methods like body language. If you give a thumbs up to your lawyer to answer a question, they are bound by attorney client privilege not to share your answer to that question, even though you did not express your answer with words.

In fact, even staying silent or failing to answer a question can be a type of communication that is protected by attorney client privilege.

All of this applies even if what you communicate to your lawyer includes criminal behavior. For example, if you tell your lawyer that you did commit the crime you’re accused of, they may not, under any circumstance, share that information with others.

This might sound extreme, but it’s part of making sure that people can receive a fair trial in court. People need to be able to speak openly with their attorneys so that they can receive due process.

Understanding the Duty of Confidentiality

Some people mix up attorney client privilege with the duty of confidentiality. These are related ideas, but they are not the same thing. The duty of confidentiality obligates lawyers not to share any of your sensitive information with others.

That might sound like the same thing as attorney client privilege at first. However, it is important to emphasize that attorney client privilege applies specifically to litigation scenarios.

What this means is that violations of attorney client privilege would also count as violations of the duty of confidentiality. On the other hand, not all violations of the duty of confidentiality are also violations of attorney client privilege.

What the duty of confidentiality means is that clients can speak freely with their lawyers about anything, not just the legal situation they are facing. That can allow clients and attorneys to enjoy a trusting relationship that can help the client receive proper representation in court.

At the same time, there are some exceptions to the duty of confidentiality. For example, what if you share something with your lawyer that is already public knowledge? In that case, your lawyer would not be violating their duty of confidentiality if they told someone else about that information.

When Does Attorney Client Privilege Begin?

As impressive as these protections are, it’s important to understand when you have them. If you’re meeting a lawyer for the first time, are you protected by the attorney client privilege? What if you have not paid your lawyer yet or you haven’t even decided if you want to hire them?

The good news is that even in these cases, you will generally be protected by attorney client privilege. As long as you expect that the information you share with the attorney in question is confidential, it is.

If you want to be sure, you can always ask each attorney you meet with about what kinds of protections you have before you have decided whether or not to hire them.

What Protects Attorney Client Privilege?

But how can you know that lawyers will not violate attorney client privilege? It can be reassuring to know that lawyers can face significant consequences if they violate these rules of conduct. A lawyer can face fines, suspension, and even disbarment if they violate attorney client privilege.

On top of that, if a client suffers because their attorney violates attorney client privilege, they will often have legal standing to sue for damages.

Plus, think about how damaging it would be to a lawyer’s reputation to be known as someone who violates attorney client privilege. Even if there were no other consequences to doing so, the reputation concerns alone would provide a strong incentive for attorneys to keep their clients’ information confidential.

Otherwise, they’ll likely have trouble finding any new clients.

The last thing to keep in mind is that there is often little reason for a lawyer to even think about violating attorney client privilege. If a lawyer violates this principle to share information about illegal activities, their testimony will often be thrown out of court.

Why Do We Have Attorney Client Privilege?

All of this is reassuring, but it might sound surprising. Why are there so many significant protections of attorney client privilege? In fact, why do we have attorney client privilege at all?

In general, this principle exists to protect the innocent. However, it’s sometimes necessary to protect the guilty so that we can protect the innocent at the same time.

If lawyers were able to share sensitive information with others, that would make it difficult for clients to trust them. That would mean that guilty clients would not want to share what they had done with their lawyers. Some people might think that is okay for guilty clients, but similar problems would plague innocent clients as well.

This is similar to the reason why a court might throw out the testimony of a lawyer that violates attorney client privilege. Even if the court knows that the attorney’s client is guilty, they might still dismiss the evidence and refuse to consider it for the sake of other clients who need to be able to feel that they can trust their lawyers.

When Doesn’t Attorney Client Privilege Apply?

As powerful as attorney client privilege is, it’s vital to note that there are also exceptions to it. So why might an attorney be able to share one of their client’s information with others?

Speaking in Front of Third Parties

Suppose a client is speaking with their lawyer while an unrelated party is present. In this case, anything they say can be considered public knowledge in a certain sense. After all, if they have shared something in front of a third party who can tell it to others, it’s clear that they are not protecting the information.

As a result, it is important to speak with your lawyer in private in many situations. However, this does not apply to other members of your attorney’s law firm. If another member of the law firm is present while you’re speaking with your lawyer, attorney client privilege remains in force.

Waiving Your Attorney Client Privilege

There are some cases in which you might not want attorney client privilege to apply. If a client wants their lawyer to share something, they are allowed to do so. In other words, you can choose to waive your attorney client privilege.

The good news is that you can choose which information you want to allow your attorney to share. Waiving your privilege about one piece of information does not waive it for everything else. Unless you give specific permission for your lawyer to share a piece of information, it will remain protected by attorney client privilege.

Planning to Commit Future Crimes

As we have noted, attorney client privilege deals specifically with litigation concerns. On top of that, it deals with the specific charge the client is facing. So what if a client is planning to commit a crime in the future?

In this case, attorney client privilege will not be in effect. The attorney will still not be able to speak about anything related to past activities. However, they may be free to tell others about any plans their client has to commit future crimes.

Prevention of Future Harm

A similar principle applies even if a client does not intend to commit a crime at all. Attorneys may be allowed to share information that prevents future harm.

For example, someone might be planning to commit suicide. In such cases, their attorney would still not be allowed to share any information about their past activities. However, the lawyer would be free to tell others about these suicide plans to attempt to prevent harm.

Correcting Breaches of Duty

Suppose that someone tells their attorney that they don’t intend to pay them for their services. At this point, it might make sense for the lawyer to sue for damages.

But now they need to testify in court about what you told them. Can they do so if everything shared with them is protected by attorney client privilege?

This is another exception to attorney client privilege that allows attorneys to share their clients’ information. If you breach a duty you have to your attorney, they may be able to set attorney client privilege aside.

However, they may only do so in the most limited way possible. They still may not share anything related to your past litigation issues. They can only say enough to address the breach of duty in question.

Last Will and Testament Cases

After someone has died, there can be confusion about their last will and testament. What if their lawyer knows crucial information that can resolve this confusion?

This is another exception to attorney client privilege. A lawyer can share just enough information to help clear up ambiguity about a deceased client’s will.

Finding the Right White Collar Crime Attorneys

Without attorney client privilege, some people might be reluctant to work with white collar crime lawyers. However, with this protection in place, it’s almost always a good idea to get a lawyer on your side. Whether you are guilty or innocent, you have the right to a fair trial and due process.

Because of rules like attorney privilege, you can trust your lawyer to give you the best defense possible no matter what.

As you consider your attorney options, you might want to emphasize white collar crime experience. The more cases similar to your own that an attorney has managed, the higher the chance they can help you win your case. Even if you don’t think you can win, great representation can help you reduce your sentencing.

You might also want to look at testimonials online to help you find a lawyer you will be satisfied with.

Enjoy the Help of a White Collar Crime Lawyer

We hope that you now have a clear idea of what attorney client privilege is and why it’s so important. When you are working with a white collar crime lawyer, it is essential that you know that you can trust them and speak with them freely. Attorney client privilege makes sure that everyone enjoys proper representation in court when facing criminal charges.

To learn more about how you can find the right white collar crime lawyer for your legal situation, reach out and get in touch with us here at any time!