Court Refuses to Apply the Attorney-Client Privilege to a Criminal Defendant’s Discussions with His Girlfriend/Lawyer The attorney-client privilege generally covers only those communications that lawyers have while acting as legal advisors—not as business advisors, marriage counselors, public relations consultants, etc. Clients speaking with friends who happen to have law degrees must deal with this issue.
In Jones v. United States, 828 A.2d 169 (D.C. 2003), a criminal defendant argued that the privilege covered his conversations with a girlfriend who had a law degree. The court found the privilege inapplicable, noting that the girlfriend was not a criminal lawyer, and that she could not have represented any individual because she worked for the government. The court explained that “[in] the case of someone seeking advice from a friend who is also a lawyer, the lawyer-friend must be giving advice as a lawyer and not as a friend in order for the privilege to attach.” Id. at 175.
Many laymen would not appreciate this fine distinction, and lawyers approached by their friends for advice should discuss and document the exact nature of that advice.