The attorney–client privilege is the strongest legal privilege. It is limited to
communications between attorney and client made as part of the
attorney–client relationship. To be legally privileged, a communication must
pass directly from one party to the other, and it must pass intentionally. It may
be written, spoken, signed, or otherwise communicated. It extends only to the
communication itself, it cannot be used to hide information that was not
previously privileged. The privilege only prevents the court from forcing the
attorney to testify. For example, if the client tells the same information to a
friend as to the attorney, the friend may be forced to testify about the
information. The privilege cannot be used to hide documents that were not
prepared by the attorney, and it does not extend to physical evidence.
This example from criminal law will help illustrate the nature of a
communication. One of the traditional privileges in criminal law is the
protection of communications between husband and wife. This privilege is
intended to preserve domestic relations. It prevents people from testifying
about information they were told by their spouse. If a husband is told by his
wife that she has been filing fraudulent Medicare claims, he may not testify if
she is prosecuted for criminal Medicare fraud. However, if he actually watches
her filling out fraudulent forms on their home computer, he may be compelled
to testify as to his observations.
The only exception to the attorney–client privilege is the threat of future harm.
The attorney may alert the police if the attorney believes the client is going to
commit a crime that would endanger others. The state may also require
attorneys to report child abuse and other public health problems, but few