What’s Attorney-Client Privilege?

Posted On July 5, 2024 Family Law

Do you want to talk with a Washington State family law attorney about filing for divorce? Is speaking openly to someone about the problems in your marriage keeping you from calling a divorce lawyer? If so, you don’t need to worry. With very few exceptions, the things you tell your divorce lawyer are protected by attorney-client privilege.

What Do We Mean by Privilege in a Washington Divorce Case?

Privilege applies to evidence protected from disclosure in a legal matter. You cannot be forced to disclose privileged information in a deposition or court unless ordered by the court. Judges must have a valid legal basis to compel you to disclose privileged information.

Attorney-client privilege protects the information you disclose in confidence to your attorney. Privilege encourages open and honest communication with your lawyer. An attorney cannot do their best to represent a client unless they have all the relevant information about the case. Therefore, you may need to discuss sensitive topics such as child custody, domestic abuse, property division, and mental illness.

There are only rare exceptions to attorney-client privilege. For example, in what is known as the “crime-fraud exception,” statements made by a client that further or conceal a crime are not protected.

Overview of Attorney-Client Privilege in Washington State

Rule 1.6 of the Washington Rules of Professional Conduct explains the rules of attorney-client privilege in Washington State. Attorneys cannot reveal privileged information unless the client provides informed consent OR the disclosure falls into one of the following situations:

  • Prevent substantial bodily injury or death
  • The client is serving as a guardian, receiver, or personal representative, and the attorney needs to inform the court of the client’s breach of fiduciary duty
  • Prevent the client from committing a crime
  • Determine and resolve conflicts of interest related to an attorney’s change of employment or change in the composition of a law firm to the extent the disclosed information does not prejudice the client or compromise the attorney-client privilege
  • Rectify, mitigate, or prevent substantial harm to the property or financial interests of another party that has resulted or is reasonably certain to result from the client’s fraud or crime
  • Disclose information as required by a court order
  • Obtain legal advice about the attorney’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct
  • Establish a defense for the attorney in a dispute between the client and the attorney, respond to allegations in an action concerning the attorney’s representation of the client, or prepare a defense to a civil claim or criminal charge against the attorney based on the client’s conduct

The rules require an attorney to make reasonable efforts to prevent the unauthorized or unintentional disclosure of client information. This duty includes taking steps to prevent unauthorized access to client files.

When Does Attorney-Client Privilege Apply in a Washington Divorce Case?

Once an attorney-client relationship is established, privilege applies to the information you disclose to your Spokane divorce attorney. Signing a retainer agreement to hire a lawyer creates an attorney-client relationship. 

Generally, attorney-client privilege applies if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • The information was disclosed during a meeting or conversation between you and an attorney;
  • You disclosed the information to obtain legal advice from the divorce attorney;
  • The attorney acted within the professional capacity when they received the confidential information from you; and,
  • You reasonably expected that the information you disclosed to the attorney would be kept private and confidential.

Many argue that these criteria apply to initial consultations with a lawyer, but the law is not settled on the matter. It’s best to confirm with your lawyer that your correspondence will be protected.

Contact the Washington Family Law Lawyers at Twyford Law Office To Get Legal Assistance Today

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our family law lawyers or reach out to Twyford Law Office online by visiting our contact us page.

We serve King County and Spokane County in Washington and its surrounding areas. You can also visit our offices. We have locations in Seattle, Spokane & Bellevue:

Twyford Law Office – Seattle Office
814 Second Avenue, Suite 515,
Seattle, WA 98104

(206) 590-7085

 

Twyford Law Office – Spokane Office
430 W Indiana Ave,
Spokane, WA 99205
.

(509) 327 0777

 

Twyford Law Office – Bellevue Office
1408 140th Pl NE Suite 400,
Bellevue, WA 98007

(425) 517-3350

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