Decisions Highlight Important Differences Between the Work Product Doctrine and the Attorney-Client Privilege: Part III

December 11, 2013

The last two Privilege Points described ways in which the work product doctrine provides less protection than the attorney-client privilege. However, in some situations the work product doctrine can apply when the privilege cannot.

In U.S. Bank National Ass’n v. PHL Variable Insurance Co., Nos. 12 Civ. 6811 & 1580 (CM) (JCF), 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143398, at *28 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 3, 2013), the court confirmed that the work product doctrine can protect “the identities of people interviewed as part of counsel’s investigation” – if disclosing those identities has “the potential to reveal counsel’s opinion, thought processes, or strategies.” The privilege cannot protect such information, because it covers only client-lawyer communications. Also, work product protection does not depend on a communication, in contrast to the attorney-client privilege. In Dempsey v. Bucknell University, Civ. A. No. 4:11-CV-1679, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144636, at *27-28 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 7, 2013), the court found the privilege inapplicable to a lawyer’s agents’ “strategy notes” – because “there is nothing to suggest that these documents themselves were communicated to … counsel, nor that they contain references to any privileged communications within them.” However, the court extended work product protection to the notes.

Lawyers should remember that the work product doctrine can protect documents that would not deserve privilege protection, and vice versa. The differing strengths and weaknesses of the two protections should prompt lawyers to consider both.