Attorney-Client Privilege Explained

Many potential clients who call or come in for a consultation are understandably hesitant to reveal the details of their situation.  Be assured: everything you talk about with your attorney is strictly confidential and cannot be repeated without your express authorization thanks to the attorney-client privilege.

When does the Attorney-Client Privilege begin?

The attorney-client privilege begins the minute a client starts discussing what the defense lawyer believes is confidential information.  Therefore, a potential client can, and should, feel free to discuss all of the details of their case with the criminal attorney during the initial consultation.  It is often necessary for the attorney to ask detailed questions about the incident in order to give the potential client a proper consultation.  With this unfiltered information, the attorney can provide the client a better idea of the penalties and other consequences they are facing, possible defenses, and the attorney’s opinion on how the case is likely to proceed through the court system.  Even if the potential client chooses not to hire the lawyer, all of the information will remain confidential and cannot be revealed.

When does the Attorney-Client Privilege end?

The attorney-client privilege continues through the course of the representation and even after the representation concludes.  Therefore, unless the client gives informed consent to disclose information, and absent any of the exceptions below, any and all information disclosed by the client to the attorney related to the representation will remain confidential.

Exceptions to the Attorney-Client Privilege

As is true with almost any privilege, there are a few limited exceptions.  As codified in Wis. Stat. § 905.03(4), there are 5 exceptions:

  • Furtherance of crime or fraud;
  • Claimants through same deceased client;
  • Breach of duty by lawyer or client;
  • Document attested by lawyer;
  • Joint Clients.

As it applies to criminal defense, the first and third exceptions are most relevant.  The first exception means there is no attorney-client privilege if the services of the lawyer were sought or obtained to enable or aid anyone to commit or plan to commit what the client knew or reasonably should have known to be a crime or fraud.  Importantly, this doesn’t apply to individuals accused of committing a crime, or who have committed a crime.  It only applies if the client secured the services of the lawyer in order to commit or plan to commit a crime.

The third exception means that if the client is claiming that the lawyer breached his duty, such as being ineffective, the lawyer can reveal information as it relates to defending himself against such a claim.

The Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys further explains the extent of the rule of confidentiality and the exceptions.

What this means for you, the client

All of this means that you can feel confident that the conversations you have with the criminal defense attorneys at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. are confidential and will never be revealed to anyone outside of our firm without your informed consent.  It is important to have open and honest communication with your attorney.  Knowing that the attorney-client privilege protects you will allow us to provide the best representation possible.  If you are seeking a consultation, contact us today!