Did you know that if you inadvertently disclose your legal advice to a third party, you may be waiving your right to claim client legal privilege over that information? This can prove detrimental in the context of legal proceedings.
How does client legal privilege work?
During litigation, parties to a legal dispute are required to provide (or ‘discover’) certain documents relevant to the dispute to their opponent in a process known as ‘discovery’.
This process is intended to facilitate a speedier and cheaper resolution to the dispute by clarifying the facts and permitting each side to better assess the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case, promoting an out-of-court settlement.
During this process, however, legal advice provided by a lawyer to a client is protected by what is known as client legal privilege (or legal professional privilege). This privilege means that documents for the purpose of obtaining or providing legal advice, or for the purpose of existing or reasonably contemplated judicial proceedings, are exempted from the discovery process and need not be given to the other side.
This rule encourages clients to be frank with their lawyers and disclose all relevant information so that they can get better legal advice and the dispute will resolve more efficiently and appropriately. It also reduces the potential for trade competitors to obtain potentially sensitive details about a business disclosed to lawyers in the course of obtaining legal advice.
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How to avoid waiving client legal privilege
Nevertheless, there is an exception to this exception. A client can be considered to have waived their client legal privilege if they disclose legal advice they have received to any third party, whether intentionally or inadvertently.
Even if the full document containing the advice is not disclosed, explaining the conclusions or the gist of the advice to somebody can be enough to waive the privilege. This can lead to the document being included in the discovery process, in which case, the opposing party will be able to obtain the document in question.
This has important consequences for anybody obtaining legal advice. Even if you are not currently involved in a dispute that may go to court, you should ensure that any legal advice you receive is kept confidential.
If you send, show or explain documents containing legal advice to any third party, even a friendly one, or if you even communicate the “gist” of legal advice you have received in documents, you may later be required to send those documents to opponents in any future disputes that arise. This could lead to your opponents obtaining sensitive information about your business and create further problems at an inconvenient time.