In previous posts, we’ve been looking at the topic of the duty of confidentiality lawyers owe to their clients. Confidentiality is of central importance in lawyer-client relations, since it makes it possible for clients to feel comfortable with their attorney and provide them with the information needed to provide them the best possible representation.
As we noted last time, the duty of confidentiality is different from attorney-client privilege. While the two are related, attorney-client privilege is an evidentiary rule as opposed to an ethics rule. As such, it relates to what type of evidence may or may not be admitted at trial.
The general rule, in New Jersey, is that communications between a lawyer and his or her client which occur in the course of that professional relationship and in professional confidence are protected. Clients have the privilege of refusing to disclose these communications and of preventing their attorney from disclosing them.
Witnesses may also be prevented from disclosing privileged communications, if the witnesses obtained the knowledge in the course of its communication between the lawyer and the client, or in a matter that the lawyer and client couldn’t reasonably anticipate, or as a result of a breach of confidentiality, or as a result of a confidential or privileged communication between the client and the witness.
There are certain exceptions to this general rule. In our next post, we’ll look at these exceptions, and then at what recourse a client has when he or she has suffered damages as a result of an attorney’s failure to abide by the attorney-client privilege.