Relationships between lawyers and their clients are unique. In fact, they’re wholly unlike any other professional relationship, both in scope and in their defined rules of engagement. Moreover, the relationship is extremely unbalanced, and only the needs of the client merit consideration.
That lack of balance is intentional. It serves to keep society’s scales of justice in equilibrium by keeping clients firmly in the driver seat of their legal future. Lawyer and client interaction is regulated by a founding cornerstone of our modern law system, known as attorney-client privilege.
Attorney-client privilege works to keep communications between a client and their attorney confidential. It’s an essential privilege that federal and state judiciary’s protect. Protecting that privilege is pivotal when providing clients with legal services designed to serve their best interests.
As such, all parties involved in the handling of client communications while performing duties under the direction of an attorney are bound to adhere to the same attorney-client privilege policies. This includes paralegals, legal secretaries, and anyone else who may have interactions with privileged client communications.
Paralegals are Required to Uphold Client Privilege
While paralegals are barred from being a participant of the attorney-client privilege, they must behave in a manner that upholds and protects the rights held between an attorney and a client. Paralegals are legally and ethically required to do so.
In the American Bar Association’s Model Rules for Professional Conduct, Model Rule 5.3, which applies to non-lawyer assistants, verifies that anyone working under the direction of a lawyer must make assurances that their, “conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.”
Attorneys Oversee Client Privilege
Regardless of who is the cause of a breach in client privilege, be it the attorney, paralegal, or other law firm staff, it is ultimately the responsibility of the lawyer. In the event that a breach in privilege comes to light, it will be the lawyer involved in the client-attorney privilege who can be penalized.
For that reason, attorneys need to be diligent with their behaviors and when overseeing their team in order to ensure privilege is upheld.
Law Office Structure Impacts Client Privilege
It is important for law firms to be structured in such a way that prevents clients from being exposed to potential breaches of privileges. Before a law firm’s doors even open, there are some steps you can take to ensure the security and ethical handling of client confidentiality.
- Incorporate software intended for use in law offices.
- Implement strict confidentiality agreements that apply to existing and former employees.
- All business, confidential or not, within a law firm, should be conducted with ethical awareness and integrity.
The attorney-client dynamic has been rigorously structured to serve the needs of individual clients. The right to privilege is intended to keep clients in the driver seat when legal matters are at play. In most cases, privilege can be easily upheld with the implementation of a few safeguards throughout your firm. Optimizing the client experience is the core ethical commitment of any law office, and upholding privilege is one way to show clients that their interests are protected by all members of their caring legal team.