How Corporate Counsel Can Preserve Attorney-Client Privilege

Most corporations do not give even a rudimentary education in the fundamental principles of the legal professional-client privilege to executives and some others who rely on in-dwelling and outside counsel relative.

The unavoidable absence of knowing of privilege may well consequence in no privilege in which a person is required, and other evidentiary problems.

In-dwelling counsel ought to provide their core constituents with a common primary on the lawyer-customer privilege prior to and independent of a unique privilege problem arising. Below are some of the additional salient parts of the recommended coaching.

“Executive” is employed interchangeably in this article with “constituents” to incorporate other main stakeholders this kind of as the director of HR.

Employer Illustration

Just about every in-residence lawyer is aware of they characterize the employer and not the CEO, the CFO, or the director of HR—unless they stand for that individual in a unique make any difference. Nonetheless, not every executive is familiar with this. Instead, it is not uncommon for executives to imagine of—and refer to—-in-home counsel as “my lawyer.”

As component of the advisable coaching not associated to any unique make a difference, in-household counsel really should make clear that they stand for the entity and not any unique govt. The middle of a dispute is not the best time the government need to hear this fact for the initially time.

But what occurs if there is a warm concern and the government refers to in-household counsel as “my lawyer” notwithstanding the prior training? Should they be corrected in the minute?

The purist answer: of course. The reasonable remedy: it relies upon.

For instance, if you appropriate an government in entrance of opposing counsel, you may well will need a recruiter when your ashamed boss removes the resource of their shame. In this scenario, you could have waited and reminded them later, 1 on a person, that you do not characterize them.

But if you don’t appropriate an govt right before a grand jury, you could later on require your own lawyer. Significantly from hypothetical, hope the government to argue that you proposed that you represented them by not correcting them but then did not consider the steps required to safeguard them in advance of the grand jury.

Privilege issues are unable to be painted with a broad brush.

Scope of Privilege

Some executives believe that that everything they share with in-household counsel is privileged. Having said that, communications are privileged frequently only if the constituent is looking for or getting lawful suggestions.

Educate your constituents in advance as to the scope of the privilege as outlined earlier mentioned. Additional, make very clear in instruction that the privilege does not increase to enterprise or particular communications with counsel.

Aim on documentation, also. For example, educate your constituents not to reflexively place a “cc” to counsel on a company e-mail. A cc to in-home counsel on a enterprise conversation may well effectively make them a witness.

Similarly, you can not make privileged what is not by slapping a privileged appellation on the communication. This could provide only to make the label questionable where by it ought to not be. If every little thing is privileged, then nothing at all is privileged, or so it will be argued with some drive.


There are two common principles with regards to confidentiality and privilege.

First, make very clear that in-house or outside counsel retains the ideal to disclose what is told to them. This features the right to disclose to, among the other individuals, the board of administrators and senior executive leadership.

Second, the executive are unable to disclose with other folks what they talk about with counsel. Sure, there is no mutuality.

The lack of mutuality can be a challenging capsule to swallow for lots of executives if not explained diligently. That is why it is very best to describe it all through an orientation method right before any particular difficulty arises.

Even if you increase the concern up entrance, there might be instances when you will have to have to remind executives of this reality. For illustration, if an government asks you to hold some thing strictly confidential, you may possibly need to have to remind the executive in advance of they make the disclosure that you simply cannot promise complete confidentiality.

Just as essential, you require to be clear on the scope of what the government need to retain as confidential. The privilege covers what is discussed with counsel, not the underlying details of what happened.

The following illustration illustrates the place and must assist to keep away from an obstruction cost centered on a refusal by the govt to cooperate in a federal government investigation.

“If a government formal asks you whether you heard John Doe say X, you ought to respond to in truth and totally. What you cannot disclose is that I questioned you the dilemma and the reply you gave me.”


The corporation “owns” the privilege so only it can wait it. But what an govt does could bind the company and that incorporates waiving the privilege.

As component of coaching, share with your constituents what could final result in the waiver of the privilege. For illustration, disclosing the advice with non-staff, this kind of as spouse and children or good friends, sharing with employees exterior the handle group, or asserting lawful assistance as defense for what was completed.

In this final illustration, it is not just in court. It could be in an argument with an adverse celebration. There is a massive variation amongst, “I am comfy with our lawful position” and “My attorney instructed me you have no claim for the reason that … .” The waiver linked with the latter may perhaps build the claim.

By now, you may perhaps be contemplating, will the executives recall all of this and a lot more? The reply is “no,” and that is why refresher education desires to be executed periodically. The privilege gets to be a peril in the absence of periodic teaching.

This write-up does not essentially mirror the impression of The Bureau of Nationwide Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its homeowners.

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Jonathan A. Segal is a associate with Duane Morris. A previous litigator, his apply focuses on maximizing lawful compliance and minimizing lawful hazard with an eye on tradition. Regions of concentration involve Covid-19, range and inclusion, harassment and civility, wage and hour compliance, office investigations, fork out fairness, and work, severance, and company defense agreements.

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