It is a natural instinct to try to keep some things in your life private, but this is almost always a bad habit when engaging with a lawyer. When a lawyer does not have the full set of facts, providing you with excellent legal counsel becomes much more difficult. Worse, you may be violating rules governing Arizona lawsuits, which will harm your case.
In the majority of cases, what you tell a lawyer will remain confidential. Still, there are instances when a lawyer will be required to disclose information you provide them. Understanding these issues requires a working familiarity with the concept of attorney-client privilege.
Attorney-Client Privilege Defined
Attorney-client privilege refers to a legal protection that means neither you nor your attorney can be forced to tell any third party the contents of your conversations or other communications. Most conversations with a lawyer are protected by this standard.
The purpose of this privilege is to encourage a client to provide all information to their attorney so the attorney can provide effective legal representation to the client. This privilege covers, among other things, your communications regarding strategy and litigation preparation. This rule of confidentiality also applies to your attorney’s staff and other employees. That said, attorney-client privilege is not absolute.
Information a Lawyer May Be Required to Disclose
The rules governing lawsuits in Arizona, including family law cases, impose an affirmative duty on litigants to disclose all facts, legal theories, documents, and names of individuals relevant to any of the issues in the lawsuit. This information must be given to the opposing party in a case.
Effectively, all information that may be relevant to the case and is known by or available to you and your lawyer must be provided to the other side. Because this is an affirmative duty, you must provide such information, even if it is not specifically requested by the other side. You cannot avoid this duty by claiming the information is privileged because you communicated the information to your attorney.
Once your attorney is in possession of the information, the attorney has an ethical duty to disclose the information to the other side and can be financially sanctioned by the court for failing to do so. For example, if child support is at issue in your case (making each parties’ incomes relevant) and you tell your attorney you get paid “under the table” for much of the work you perform, that fact is not protected by the privilege. If you tell your attorney you have a secret bank account into which you have placed community funds, that fact is not protected.
Contact us at Hallier Stearns PLC if you have any questions about attorney-client privilege and how it can impact your divorce.