What does the attorney-client privilege mean? The law requires that an attorney protect from disclosure the private communications or letters between the attorney and his/her client to any third party, which includes business associates, competitors, government agencies and even criminal justice authorities. This rule is so serious that the law says that the lawyer must, "maintain inviolate the confidence [of the client], and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client." This protection allows the client to speak freely with his/her attorney and without a fear that his/her sensitive information will be disclosed, This open communication allows the attorney to understand the facts as perceived by his client and formulate strategies for the benefit of the client.
Attorney-client communications, to remain protected, must be made in confidence outside the presence of other people, except for the employees or agents of the attorney. Second, the information must be truly confidential, which means that it must not be known outside of the communication between the lawyer and client. Only the client has the right to waive that privilege.
There is one possible exception to this rule. A lawyer may, but is not required to, reveal confidential information about a client to the extent the lawyer believes the disclosure is necessary to prevent a criminal act that is likely to result in death or substantial bodily injury. However, before revealing confidential information to prevent a criminal act, the lawyer is to try to persuade the client: not to commit the crime or how to avoid doing so. Additionally, the attorney is to inform the client, of the lawyer's ability or decision to reveal the information. Finally, the lawyer minimize the amount of the information to be disclosed.
This rule can be a serious burden to bear by the lawyer, however, a necessity to protection for the legal system.