Court Finds That the Attorney-Client Privilege Does Not Protect Basic Information About a Law Firm’s Fees

December 27, 2000

The attorney-client privilege does not protect all communications between a client and a lawyer. Only those communications that relate to the request for or the providing of legal advice deserve the attorney-client protection.

Even large firms can mistakenly claim the attorney-client privilege protection in the face of this general rule. In LNC Investments, Inc. v. First Fidelity Bank, No. 92 Civ. 7584 (CSH), 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11926, at *8-9 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 18, 2000), the law firm of Weil Gotshal objected to producing information about the fees paid by one of its clients. The court rejected the law firm’s contention, noting that “[a] bare bones schedule of fee amounts also does away with any basis for assertion of the attorney-client privilege. Weil Gotshal’s objection reveals the common misapprehension that any communication passing between a client and his attorney, in either direction, is covered by the privilege.” As the court explained it, “[a] schedule of fees, stated in stark dollar amounts, does nothing to reveal what the clients in question said in confidence to Weil Gotshal attorneys. Accordingly the attorney-client privilege does not apply.”

Lawyers should remember that determining the extent to which a client-lawyer communication deserves attorney-client privilege protection depends on the substance of the communication, and that the privilege does not automatically apply to all such communications.