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Ask the Attorney: What's Up with Attorney/Client Privilege and Third Parties?

Q: I am meeting with a lawyer soon to discuss some legal issues I have. Can I bring my spouse along with me?

Ultimately, this depends on the preferences of individual clients and their attorneys. 

Clients frequently feel more comfortable having a significant other with them when meeting with their attorneys. After all, meeting with an attorney can be a stressful and intimidating experience. It is natural for clients to want an ally by their side for moral support when facing the unfamiliar prospect of talking to a lawyer.

Depending on the nature of the legal matter, your attorney may be representing your and your spouse’s interests simultaneously, making both of you clients. If this is the case, a lawyer will never object to meeting with the both of you, sharing information with the two of you freely, and consulting both of you equally for input on key legal decisions.

If, however, your spouse is only tagging along for moral support, and will not be the attorney’s client in that particular legal matter, then many attorneys will be uncomfortable with including him or her in meetings with you. 

This can present a delicate situation, as some lawyers will insist on meeting with you alone under these circumstances.

If a lawyer insists on making a spouse wait outside the office while she meets with a new client, she is risking alienating or upsetting her client, and she is taking that risk for a very good reason. 

The backbone of any attorney/client relationship is the concept of attorney/client privilege, which protects clients’ communications with their attorneys. 

With very rare exceptions, what you tell your attorney is secret; the attorney generally cannot share that information with other people, and she will be able to withhold it from opponents in litigation.

When clients bring third parties, including their spouses, into meetings with their attorneys, attorney/client privilege is compromised. Attorney/client privilege protects communications between clients and attorneys, but not necessarily the information contained in those communications. 

If a third party is made privy to those communications, then the information contained in those communications can be shared with others or discovered in the course of litigation. 

This is because only the attorney and client are bound and protected by the doctrine of attorney/client privilege. Third parties with sensitive information not only lack a legal duty to protect its confidentiality, but they can also be compelled to testify about it.

Consequently, when scheduling a meeting with an attorney, ask first whether you can bring your spouse along with you, and do not be offended if the answer is, “No.” 

 (This article is intended as a discussion of legal topics that are often confusing to many lay people; it is not, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. Attorney Jesse White is licensed to practice solely in Pennsylvania and any information discussed relates solely to Pennsylvania law. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should only be made after careful consideration. For more information, contact The Law Office of Jesse White in at 724-743-4444 or visit www.jessewhitelaw.com.)

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