Attorney-Client Privilege vs. Confidentiality: What’s the Difference?

Attorney-Client Privilege vs. Confidentiality: What’s the Difference?

Steven Schwartzapfel -Founding Partner Jun 24, 2022

For more than 35 years, Steven Schwartzapfel, the founding member of Schwartzapfel Lawyers P.C., has been one of New York’s most prominent personal injury attorneys. Steve represents clients in all types of personal injury cases. His experience, skill, and dedication have enabled Schwartzapfel Lawyers P.C. to recover hundreds of millions of dollars for their clients.

When you hire legal professionals for your lawsuit or legal defense, you immediately benefit from both attorney-client privilege and attorney-client confidentiality. These terms, however, are so similar that many people mix them up or consider them the same.

In truth, privilege and confidentiality are distinctly different. Below, we will explore the differences between attorney-client privilege and confidentiality to help you fully understand your rights and privileges in a legal setting. Alternatively, for more information at no charge, contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers today at 1-800-966-4999.

What Is Attorney-Client Privilege?

Attorney-client privilege is a legal concept and rule that prevents lawyers from being compelled to reveal potentially incriminating and/or private information about their clients. For example, if a lawyer defends a client who is at fault for a car accident, they are not obligated to reveal that fact to the court so long as they remain within legal bounds. A prosecuting attorney, for instance, cannot compel the defense lawyer to reveal incriminating information.

More broadly, attorney-client privilege prevents the forced or compelled disclosure of work-related information that an attorney may make or discover over the course of their litigation. Any work-related information or work product is protected under attorney-client privilege. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Strategies used by the defense or prosecution
  • Notes or other written information relating to the case
  • Discovered evidence (under most circumstances)
  • And more

Attorney-client privilege automatically applies to any information relating to a legal case. It also applies to information sent to or from an attorney, provided that information relates to a current legal action. Note that intent affects whether information can be reasonably expected to be under attorney-client privilege.

For example, if an attorney writes an email to their client, that information can be reasonably seen as intended to fall under attorney-client privilege. But a friendly chat between the attorney and their client outside of office hours may not be protected under attorney-client privilege, and any assessment would hinge largely on the content of the chat as well as the location where it took place.

When Is Attorney-Client Privilege Nullified?

Although attorney-client privilege is an ironclad rule in most cases, there are some occasions where it may be dissolved or nullified completely. These include:

  • When the client of an attorney dies. Attorneys might be compelled to reveal information if that information pertains to issues concerning inheritance, heirs, and so on.
  • When fiduciary duty is involved. For example, if a client tries to get their attorney to assist them in committing a crime, any information related to that attempt is not protected by the attorney-client privilege.
  • When a client attempts to conceal a crime or fraud after the fact. Information about that activity is also not protected by attorney-client privilege.

On top of the above, attorney-client privilege cannot reasonably be expected to pertain to information spoken about in public. For example, if an attorney and their client(s) are speaking about sensitive case issues at a public café, it is unlikely that any information spoken aloud would be protected under attorney-client privilege.

Lastly here, attorney-client privilege can be waived by a client at any time. For more on this and other helpful insights into the attorney-client relationship, call Schwartzapfel Lawyers now and speak with a member of our award-winning legal team. Simply dial 1-800-966-4999 and allow us the honor and privilege of assisting you with your claim, furthering your understanding of the law and how it can benefit you and the ones you love, and more!

What Is Attorney-Client Confidentiality?

Attorney-client confidentiality, on the other hand, is an ethical standard or rule of professional conduct. Attorney-client confidentiality states that attorneys can’t disclose information about their clients for privacy reasons unless that information is reasonably understood to be known by others.

For instance, if a client reveals to their lawyer something sensitive about their personal life in the course of discovery, the client can rely on attorney-client confidentiality to ensure that sensitive personal information never sees the light of day.

Attorney-client confidentiality is a high standard maintained by all worthwhile law firms. For example, Schwartzapfel Lawyers guarantees attorney-client confidentiality for each of our clients. We never reveal sensitive or incriminating information about our clients, thereby ensuring that our clients can trust us with each of their needs. For a free consultation, contact us today at 1-800-966-4999.

Times When Confidentiality Is Not Expected

Although attorney-client confidentiality is generally followed by most attorneys, it is not a universal rule or ethical standard.

As with attorney-client privilege, lawyers are not required to keep information confidential if it pertains to an upcoming crime or an attempt to cover up a crime. For instance, if a client comes to their lawyer and explains that they wish to commit a crime the next day, that information is not confidential, and their lawyer is not ethically compelled to keep it secret.

In addition, confidentiality is not expected if the information in question can reasonably be assumed to be public knowledge or easy to acquire. For example, if a client reveals some sensitive information to their attorney, but that information is already on social media, that attorney is not obligated to keep it confidential. However, they may still choose to do so or act as though it is confidential for the benefit of their client.

Differences Between Attorney-Client Privilege & Confidentiality

As you can see, the key difference between attorney-client privilege and confidentiality is that one is a legal protection and the other is an ethical rule or standard of conduct.

Significantly, all clients benefit from attorney-client privilege by law, which exists to ensure that lawyers cannot incriminate their clients or be compelled to reveal incriminating information unfairly.

Attorney-client confidentiality, on the other hand, is not a legal rule but an ethical standard that all lawyers must adhere to so as to gain and retain the trust of their clients. Without attorney-client confidentiality, it would be exceptionally difficult for a prospective client to contact a lawyer if they had anything sensitive to speak of.

Furthermore, attorney-client confidentiality is more open to interpretation than attorney-client privilege. For instance, a client may think that a piece of information said to their lawyer is more sensitive or confidential than what their lawyer initially assumed. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be explicit about the information you intend to keep confidential when discussing sensitive matters with your attorney.

Just to be safe, many lawyers default to confidentiality when discussing work-related topics with their clients. Accordingly, they have general rules to not speak of their clients or their clients’ lives outside of work.

To learn more, contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers directly for a free consultation with one of our premier trial attorneys. Visit us online or call us at 1-800-966-4999 now!

When Are Attorney-Client Privilege and Confidentiality Needed?

Attorney-client privilege is a fundamental pillar of the American legal system. Without its existence and the functionality it affords jurisprudence, a prosecuting attorney could, for instance, simply ask of a defense attorney if their client really did commit an alleged crime. Without the protection of attorney-client privilege, the defense attorney might be compelled to reveal the truth one way or the other. It would negate the entire point of the legal process.

Therefore, attorney-client privilege plays a vital role in ensuring that the legal process plays out as it should. It guaranteesall accused individuals the presumption ofinnocenceuntilproven guilty, as opposed to earlier forms of law, wherein individuals were commonly assumed guilty until proven innocent.

Attorney-client confidentiality is also needed, but for a different reason. It’s necessary to establish and maintain trust between attorneys and their clients, so that clients feel confident about giving their lawyers the information needed to mount effective cases.

For example, if attorney-client confidentiality was not an ethical standard, clients might not feel comfortable revealing everything they know about their issues to their lawyers. In turn, this would make defense and prosecuting lawyers’ jobs much more difficult, if not impossible, to effectively carry out.

Thanks to attorney-client confidentiality, however, clients can be reasonably assured that any sensitive information they may have about their professional or personal lives will be kept secret unless it is lawfully revealed through discovery during legal proceedings.

Bottom line: Both attorney-client confidentiality and attorney-client privilege are necessary for the legal system to function properly, and every legal client can expect both concepts to apply in their cases.

Contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers Today

ULearning the differences between attorney-client privilege and confidentiality is the first step toward fully understanding your rights and options as a legal client. Attorney-client privilege and attorney-client confidentiality guarantee that you can discuss sensitive topics about your upcoming case with attorneys like Schwartzapfel Lawyers.

When you contact us for your upcoming lawsuit or other means of legal resolution, you can trust that we will keep all sensitive information private and never betray your trust. We’ve gained the confidence of thousands of New Yorkers just like you over the years through our discretion and results. To see for yourself, check out our client testimonials page.

Still not quite sure how attorney-client privilege or confidentiality may apply to your case? Contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers today either online or at 1-800-966-4999 for more information and a free case evaluation.

But you shouldn’t wait, especially when considering whether to take legal action, as your window to file a claim and seek justice may soon close forever. Instead, act now and protect your legal rights and financial future by dialing 1-800-966-4999 and having Schwartzapfel Lawyers fight for you!


Schwartzapfel Lawyers, P.C. | Fighting For You

The Attorney-Client Privilege | Nolo

Confidentiality or Attorney-Client Privilege |

Is There a Difference Between Attorney-Client Privilege and Confidentiality? | The Law Dictionary

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