Attorney-client privilege is a pillar of our legal system. Because clients can speak freely to their attorneys without fear of legal repercussions or exposure, they get the robust legal representation they deserve. Still, laws–including those governing attorney-client privilege–come with exceptions and nuances, and clients need to understand those complexities.
When you partner with a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer from H&P Law to pursue an injury claim, you can trust your attorney to give you all the information you need to understand attorney-client confidentiality. Your attorney will explain the laws and exceptions, how violations occur, and even circumstances when a lawyer can justifiably break the privilege.
Understanding Attorney-Client Privilege
For an attorney to give a client effective representation, the client needs to speak freely with the attorney, sharing all details of the circumstances they are facing. This uninhibited communication is possible because of attorney-client privilege. The Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) codify attorney-client privilege in statute §49.035-115.
Protected by privilege, clients can disclose information to their attorney without fear of consequences or public embarrassment. For example, sharing sensitive details about the physical effects of an injury sustained in a car accident might be difficult for a client. The Las Vegas car accident attorney needs to know these details to assess the client’s damages and demand a fair settlement, and attorney-client privilege gives the client the comfort of knowing this very personal business will be kept confidential.
Attorney-client privilege extends even beyond the client and attorney in Nevada. The client’s legal guardian or, if the client is deceased, their personal representative, and trustees or others representing estates or corporations are covered, as is communication between the client’s lawyer and the lawyer’s representative, a paralegal, for example. If the attorney speaks to a third party about an issue shared between that third party and the client relevant to the case, that communication is privileged as well.
Communication Protected Under Attorney-Client Privilege
All forms of communication are covered under attorney-client privilege. Face-to-face conversations, virtual meetings, phone discussions, email and text exchanges, direct messages sent through online channels, and written communication are all protected. Clients’ notes taken during meetings with their attorneys are also privileged.
When an Attorney Breaches Attorney-Client Privilege
The attorneys at H&P Law hold attorney-client privilege sacred, as all attorneys should do and are required to do by law. When you partner with one of our personal injury lawyers in Las Vegas, your attorney will explain how the attorney-client privilege works so you can have confidence in its protections. Regrettably, not all attorneys show that respect for the law, ethics, or their clients.
Unethical attorneys may breach attorney-client privilege for their own gain. If they have the chance to profit from your information or your case presents a conflict of interest for them, unbeknownst to you, they may intentionally divulge privileged information to benefit or protect themselves. Other times, simple carelessness–leaving notes or emails or other communication unsecured only to have others come across it–causes the breach.
Whether intentional, malicious, or careless, an attorney’s breach of attorney-client confidentiality comes with severe consequences. Attorneys are likely to face disciplinary action. In some circumstances, they risk being disbarred.
Justifications for Breaking Attorney-Client Privilege
Though its basic premise appears clear-cut, like any other law, there are complexities to the rule of attorney-client privilege. Every case and every client is unique, and sometimes those unique circumstances warrant breaking the confidentiality law, though such breaks must never be taken lightly and without extreme care. While a breach is a violation, a break may be justified.
Rule 1.6 of the Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the Supreme Court of Nevada addresses attorney-client privilege. Section (a) emphasizes lawyers “shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client” without the client’s “informed consent,” or if the disclosure is “impliedly authorized” for carrying out representation, or if the disclosure is “permitted” by circumstances established in the rule.
Rule 1.6 Justifications
According to the rule, a lawyer may disclose information related to the client’s representation if the lawyer believes doing so is reasonably necessary to:
- Prevent death or significant bodily harm
- Stop the client from committing criminal or fraudulent acts for which the client has retained the lawyer’s services (initially without the lawyer’s knowledge), provided the attorney has first taken efforts to convince the client to take more suitable actions, if possible
- “Prevent, mitigate, or rectify” the effects of the previously mentioned criminal or fraudulent act, again, provided the lawyer first took efforts to convince the client to take more suitable actions, if possible
- Gather legal advice about the lawyer’s own compliance with these Rules of Professional Conduct
- File a claim or establish a defense on the lawyer’s own behalf if there is a conflict between the lawyer and client or to respond to an allegation concerning the lawyer’s provided representation
- Comply with other laws or court orders
- “Detect and resolve conflicts of interest arising from the lawyer’s change of employment or from changes in the composition or ownership of the firm,” though with certain provisions
- Prevent a criminal act the lawyer reasonably believes will cause certain death or serious bodily harm
Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege
There are breaches, justifiable breaks, and legal exceptions to attorney-client privilege. While a breach is a violation, so is failing to recognize exceptions. NRS 49.115 establishes five exceptions to attorney-client confidentiality.
- If the client retained the attorney to provide services to facilitate the client’s commission of a criminal or fraudulent act
- If the communication involved is related to issues “between parties who claim through the same deceased client”
- If the communication relates to an issue of breached duty on the part of the attorney to the client or the client to the attorney
- If the communication concerns an attested document for which the attorney was an attesting witness
- If the communication relates to an issue of “common interest” among or between clients and the clients made this communication to a lawyer “retained or consulted in common”
Put Your Case and Communication in Safe Hands
Trust your case and related legal concerns to a personal injury attorney in Las Vegas who has a full understanding of Nevada’s attorney-client privilege laws and exceptions and rules of professional conduct. The team at H&P Law PLLC takes pride in the care and support we offer our clients as we work to build strong cases leading to positive outcomes. Call or send a message today to arrange a free–and confidential–consultation.