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Attorney-Client Privilege

Many family law cases involve very intimate and private areas of a person’s life. It is often uncomfortable to share the complications of a marriage including financial difficulties and domestic violence disputes. Generally, court case files are public record. However, under California law, family law cases files are confidential and only accessible to the parties or their attorneys. Often, parties still have questions regarding confidentiality between a lawyer and his or her client. Television shows and movies frequently dramatize family law, including the attorney-client relationship, and portray it inaccurately.

Scope of the privilege: The attorney-client privilege allows a client to refuse to testify and prevent his attorney from testifying regarding confidential communications. The privilege extends to communications involving agents that facilitate the attorney-client relationship. This means that conversations in the presence of a law clerk are still confidential despite a third party’s presence.

Onset of the privilege: Another important aspect of the attorney-client privilege is when it begins. Even if no attorney-client relationship has officially begun and even if no retainer agreement has been signed the privilege will protect any communications pertaining to legal services. Therefore, conversations during initial consultations and meetings between an attorney and prospective client are deemed confidential.

Duration of the privilege: The attorney-client privilege continues indefinitely and survives the termination of the attorney-client relationship and even the death of the client. However, in San Diego, the privilege will terminate once a deceased client’s estate has been settled and the executor of the estate has been discharged.

Exceptions to the privilege: A few exceptions apply to the attorney-client privilege including, but not limited to: (1) when the client seeks the attorney’s services in furtherance of a crime or fraud, (2) the particular communication is relevant in a lawsuit such as a malpractice action against the attorney, and (3) if the lawyer reasonably believes that disclosure is necessary to prevent substantial bodily harm or death of a person.

Confidentiality: In addition to the attorney-client privilege that involves a restraint on formal testimony, a lawyer is also bound by the duty of confidentiality. Under the duty of confidentiality, a lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation of the client. This duty extends much further than the attorney-client privilege and protects any disclosure of all information regardless of how and when it was obtained. It is important to note that many exceptions also apply to this duty.

Please contact us if you are interested in obtaining a divorce from your spouse or legal separation or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call (858)793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.