Non-Privileged Nature of Basic Client Information

October 4, 2000

Some lawyers assume that any aspect of their relationship with their clients deserves attorney-client privilege. However, the privilege generally protects only communications between a lawyer and client, and not basic underlying information about the client or even the legal work performed by the lawyer.

In United States v. Legal Services, 100 F. Supp. 2d 42, 44-45 (D.D.C. 2000), a legal aid organization resisted an effort by a federal oversight agency to learn the identity of the organization’s clients. The district court quickly dismissed this privilege claim, finding that the “attorney-client privilege does not ordinarily protect the identity of a client, the amount of a fee, or the general purpose of legal work performed.”

The court acknowledged what it called an “extremely narrow” exception to this rule in which disclosure of the client’s identity would implicate the client in criminal wrongdoing or somehow reveal other confidential communications, but it found the exception inapplicable.

Litigants often try to shield too much information using the attorney-client privilege. It is important to remember that the privilege normally protects only certain communications between a client and a lawyer.