Andrew Rubin, Esq.

Law professor’s Twitter debacle raises issue of confidentiality, attorney-client privilege

We all know that the upcoming presidential election is a hug source of division. If you know what’s good for you, it’s best to avoid discussing the matter in polite company. Professionalism, of course, usually dictates against venturing into heated political discussions.  For attorneys who are involved in the representation of political figures, it is also critical to maintain professionalism and especially confidence.

Readers may have heard about the controversy surrounding well-known Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe. Last month, Tribe posted a message on Twitter indicating that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump contact him back in 1996 for legal advice, and that Tribe was considering whether the discussion was privileged such that he was prohibited from revealing anything about it. Some, not surprisingly, encouraged Tribe to reveal the contents of the discussion, while others accused him or violating his duty of confidentiality by even mentioning the matter. 

Tribe subsequently released a statement arguing he did not violate attorney-client privilege by simply mentioning the discussion since he did not reveal the “substantive topic of his inquiry” nor any of the contents of the conversation. Some legal experts, however, disagree with Tribe’s defense, saying that the tweets did indeed breach attorney-client confidentiality, since clients have an expectation that the fact that they initiated contact with an attorney for legal advice will remain confidential.

Confidentiality is one of the central duties an attorney owes to his or her clients, and it important for clients to understand what this duty entails. In our next post, we’ll take a brief look at this duty, as well as attorney-client privilege.

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