Court Reiterates the Underlying Societal Justification for the Attorney-Client Privilege

February 28, 2001

The attorney-client privilege is the oldest recognized privilege, and remains an absolute bar to discovery of communications meeting all of its requirements. Society pays a price for this protection, however, because the privilege undeniably makes the search for truth more difficult by hiding relevant information from disclosure.

It might be easy to forget the societal justification for the privilege, but periodically some court will reiterate it. For instance, in Scott v. City of St. Louis, 196 F.R.D. 551 (E.D. Mo. 2000), the court explained that the “purpose of the privilege is ‘to encourage full and frank communications between attorneys and their clients and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice.” Id. at 554 (quoting Texaco Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Department of Consumer Affairs, 60 F.3d 867, 883 (1st Cir. 1995)).

When considered in light of this important societal purpose, it is not surprising that the attorney-client privilege provides absolute (and eternal) protection to communications that meet its exacting standards.