The attorney-client privilege preserves the confidentiality of communications, whether written, oral, or electronic, between attorneys and their clients. This privilege protects both individuals and institutions, and encourages openness and honesty between clients and their attorneys. Communications between University personnel and attorneys in the Office of the Vice President for Legal Affairs for the purpose of requesting or receiving legal advice related to University business are protected by the attorney-client privilege. Attorneys cannot reveal or be forced to reveal attorney-client communications in most situations. In the litigation context, this privilege becomes especially important because privileged communications are not disclosed to the opposing party.
Our attorneys must have complete knowledge of the facts to advise University personnel properly. The attorney-client and attorney work-product privileges create a protection of privacy so that University personnel can candidly inform our attorneys of all the facts, including any “bad” or damaging facts, in a confidential and privileged setting. This protection is given so that our clients can fully disclose sensitive information as necessary to receive complete and proper legal advice.
The attorney-client privilege does not apply to all communications between our office and University personnel. Communications must be kept confidential for the privilege to apply. If University personnel do not follow the rules applicable to the privilege, the privilege can be inadvertently waived and its protections lost. If the contents of an attorney-client communication between our attorneys and University personnel is disclosed to persons outside of the University, or even to persons within the University who do not have a “need to know,” the privilege may be waived. Accordingly, communications with our attorneys should never be discussed with anyone outside the University, including family members or friends. Within the University, communications should be discussed only with persons who have responsibility for the particular matter.
Written communications, including e-mail messages, should note that you are seeking legal advice and should be clearly labeled as “PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL – ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION.”
Who is the “client” in a university setting?
The Office of the Vice President for Legal Affairs represents the University. It does not (and cannot) represent any University personnel as individuals with respect to their University activities if their interests are opposed to the University. (In certain cases, an exception could apply where there is complete unity of interest and consent is provided by all involved parties, such as University personnel being sued for actions legally taken on behalf of the University.)
If University personnel disclose personal information to one of our attorneys, this information is not privileged and is not protected from disclosure. Additionally, if the information relates to conduct harmful to the University, the attorney must disclose the information to University management.