Lawyer-Client Confidentiality: What to Know for your Alabama Personal Injury Case

If you’ve ever watched lawyers on television or heard a lawyer “joke,” you likely think that lawyers have no ethics. This is not true! In the real world, lawyers are bound by a strict code that guides every action they take. One of the most important rules states that lawyers cannot reveal information shared by a client. Lawyers call this protection lawyer-client confidentiality or attorney-client privilege.

The lawyer-client privilege is one of the most important rules concerning attorney-client relationships. This blog post will explain what lawyer-client confidentiality is, why it matters, and how it can help you in your personal injury case.

Lawyer-Client Confidentiality: What is it?

Although people sometimes use the terms “lawyer-client confidentiality” and “attorney-client privilege” interchangeably, they are actually two separate doctrines.  

The lawyer-client confidentiality doctrine comes from Alabama’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Those rules state: “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client.” So, a lawyer who tells a client’s personal information to another violates this rule.

The attorney-client privilege comes from evidence law. Alabama’s evidence rules state that a client or attorney can refuse to disclose the client’s confidential information in legal proceedings. For the purposes of this rule, a conversation is “confidential” if it was made for the purpose of providing legal services and was not intended to be disclosed to anyone not providing legal services.

So, if you went to your attorney’s office for legal advice and told them something, both rules would prevent your lawyer from telling anyone else what you said. However, if you ran into your lawyer at a dinner and started chatting about things that had nothing to do with legal advice, that social conversation would not be privileged or confidential.

How the Lawyer-Client Privilege Helps You

Most people think that knowing the law is the key to winning a case. But cases are not usually won based on the law. In nearly every case, the facts make the difference. This is especially true in personal injury cases.

Because facts are so important, your personal injury attorney needs to know everything. You might not want to talk about your injuries, especially those that you find embarrassing. But your accident lawyer needs to know everything about how the accident affected your physical and emotional state. Giving your personal injury lawyer detailed information about how the accident happened will help you get the compensation you deserve. On the other hand, withholding information can reduce your recovery, or worse, leave you with nothing at all.

Openness is the key to good attorney-client relationships. It’s normal to feel a bit awkward about telling someone you’ve just met intimate details about your body and your emotions. But knowing that rules protect your confidential communications should help you open up to your attorney. Being completely honest will help your attorney give you the best possible legal advice.

What Happens If Your Lawyer Breaks Lawyer-Client Confidentiality?

Disclosing confidential communications is a serious matter. As such, it doesn’t happen often. However, an attorney who tells their client’s secrets can face severe consequences.

Lawyers must be licensed to practice law. The Alabama State Bar issues these licenses. It also punishes lawyers who break the rules of professional conduct. Depending on the severity of the lawyer’s behavior, the bar could decide to issue a reprimand, suspend the lawyer’s license, or revoke the license altogether.

These punishments give your lawyer a powerful motivation to keep your secrets.

Are There Any Exceptions to Lawyer-Client Confidentiality?

Like any rule, the lawyer-client confidentiality doctrine has exceptions. The ethics rules allow lawyers to reveal information relating to your case in some circumstances.

First, lawyer-client confidentiality extends not only to the lawyer, but to others on the lawyer’s staff such as junior lawyers, paralegals, and secretaries. Because lawyers need to share information with these people to work effectively, the rules allow them to do so.

Second, the rules allow an attorney to reveal information if they believe that the client might be planning to kill or harm someone.

Third, if the lawyer sees that you are lying during your testimony, the lawyer can tell the court the truth even if it means disclosing your confidential information. (If the lawyer doesn’t, the lawyer could be punished for helping you commit perjury.)

Fourth, don’t confuse your medical privacy rights (protected by laws like HIPAA) with lawyer-client confidentiality. Even though your conversations with your lawyer about your injuries will be kept confidential, the other side can still request your medical records relating to the accident. Because filing a personal injury lawsuit makes your health a key fact, the other side can subpoena your medical records.  They can also ask you to sign a release that allows them to see the medical records relating to the accident. (But never sign a release without first speaking with a personal injury lawyer!) 

Finally, you also have an obligation to keep the conversations about your case confidential. The attorney-client privilege depends on two parties – you and the lawyer. If you tell a third party – someone who is not part of the attorney-client relationship – the privilege may not apply. The other side could argue that you’ve waived the attorney-client privilege on that point. Avoid this by being careful not to bring third parties to meetings with your personal injury attorney and keeping quiet about the details of your legal conversations whether in person or on social media.

More Questions About Alabama Personal Injury Lawyers?

If you’ve been injured, you need representation. If you’ve been in a car accident, trucking accident, or any other kind of crash, contact Collins Law, LLC today. Our personal injury attorneys will keep all of your information confidential as we work to get you the compensation you deserve. Click here or call (205) 881-0403 today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.