What is the attorney client privilege?
The attorney-client privilege is a special privilege that protects confidential legal communications between an attorney and his or her client. When communications and documents are "privileged," other third-parties cannot generally ask to access the information in litigation or otherwise. The purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to encourage honest and open communications between client and attorney. The attorney-client privilege can extend to oral communications and written documents (including email).
At DePaul, the attorney is the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and the client is DePaul University. However, the OGC does not have an attorney-client privilege with every DePaul employee at all times.
Rather, the individuals whose communications are protected by the attorney-client privilege can change based on the circumstances of a particular situation. This group would almost always include executive management, but could also include those individuals who have direct responsibility for the issue at hand. The OGC will always help determine whether the attorney-client privilege exists for a particular communication or document.
Additionally, the attorney-client privilege only extends to legal communications. It does not extend to the underlying facts (or documents) that may have led to a privileged communication. Simply CCing an attorney on an email does not necessarily mean that the email is protected by the attorney-client privilege.
How can you protect the attorney-client privilege?
The attorney-client privilege is not absolute. A client—or in DePaul's case, an individual who works for the client—can "waive" the attorney-client privilege by sharing the information outside the privileged group of individuals. The attorney-client privilege can be waived by sharing information intentionally or unintentionally.
In order to protect the attorney-client privilege, you should:
- Speak to the OGC by phone if you think a particular communication is or should be privileged.
- Only have legal conversations, or any conversations about a legal matter, with the OGC.
- Mark privileged documents, including emails, "privileged and confidential" if directed to do so by the OGC.
If you have any questions about the attorney-client privilege, please contact the OGC at x28865.