By the nature of the job, attorneys often have access to their clients’ personal information. To get the best representation possible, clients often have to tell their lawyer things they cannot tell anybody else.
One way the law encourages total honesty between lawyers and clients is through attorney-client confidentiality. In general, an attorney cannot disclose information about their clients without the client’s permission. Attorneys’ rules of professional responsibility also honor this duty of confidentiality.
This rule is so important because disclosing a client’s sensitive information can cause serious harm to his or her legal interests. An attorney who allows such a disclosure to happen, either deliberately or negligently, is likely guilty of legal malpractice.
As the American Bar Association’s Model Rule 1.6 puts it, an attorney cannot “reveal information relating to the representation of a client” without the client’s informed consent. However, the rule provides several exceptions.
For example, a layer may reveal confidential client information to prevent “reasonably certain” death or substantial bodily harm. An attorney may also make a disclosure to comply with the law or a court order, or prevent the client from committing a crime that is reasonably certain to cause financial harm to another, when the attorney’s services were sued to further the criminal activity.
For most people and businesses, an inadvertent or deliberate disclosure of their private information can substantially harm their negotiating position or ability to receive a fair trial. It may end up unfairly costing them a great deal of money, freedom, and reputation. Legal malpractice litigation can help compensate the client.