One of a lawyer’s most fundamental ethical obligations is to maintain the confidentiality of client communications. With few exceptions, some of which are noted below, your lawyer cannot voluntarily reveal anything learned while representing you. These rules exist so you can tell your lawyer the whole truth without fear that what you say will later be used against you.
Direct communications between you and your lawyer are protected by the attorney-client privilege. This means that not even a court can make you or your lawyer tell what you have said or written to each other. Information that your lawyer obtains from documents or people other than you cannot be voluntarily revealed, but may in some cases be disclosed if ordered by a court.
But be aware that the attorney-client privilege can be lost if someone other than you and your lawyer (or your lawyer’s staff) hears or reads what you and your lawyer say or write to each other. There are many ways in which your privilege can be waived by disclosure of your confidences to persons other than your lawyer: for example, talking to your lawyer in the presence of a third person not on your lawyer’s staff; telling others what you have discussed with your lawyer; and allowing others to read correspondence between you and your lawyer. If you bring a friend or relative with you to your lawyer’s office for moral support, your lawyer may ask your friend or relative to wait in the reception room in order to preserve the privilege. Because the rules regarding confidentiality and privilege vary slightly from state to state, you should never discuss confidential information about your case with anyone other than your lawyer without first checking with your lawyer.
There are also several exceptions to your lawyer’s duty not to reveal client confidences. A conversation in which a client tells a lawyer that the client intends to commit a crime or, in some states, a fraud, is not privileged and the lawyer could be forced to testify in court about the conversation. The privilege may also be lost if you or one of your witnesses commits perjury and in other circumstances which you should discuss with your lawyer. Also, if a lawyer is accused of wrongdoing by the client, the lawyer may reveal confidential information necessary to defend against the accusation.
Confidential information provided to others may also be revealed during divorce proceedings. Psychologists, therapists, public officials and others may be required by law in your state to report suspected child abuse. Judges may report suspected tax fraud to the Internal Revenue Service. Financial, medical, and psychological records may be subject to subpoena. In summary, your right to privacy may be diminished during a divorce.