In Florida, communications between a lawyer and his/her client are general privileged. This means that neither the state, the judge, the jury, the other party nor anyone else has a right to discover what has been said or otherwise communicated between a client and his/her attorney.
This is obviously crucial in criminal cases as the client often relates critical, and sometimes very damaging, information to the lawyer. Of course, the attorney-client privilege also applies to personal injury, civil, divorce and other legal cases where important, confidential information is routinely discussed.
This attorney-client privilege applies even before the client actually retains the lawyer or if the prospective client decides not to retain a lawyer at all. Most often, before a person decides to hire an attorney, he/she will schedule a meeting to discuss the case and get familiar with each other. Important matters about the case that the client wishes to remain confidential are often discussed. The person may decide not to hire that lawyer. The person may speak with several lawyers before deciding upon one of them or none of them. In these instances, the attorney-client privilege remains intact, and the lawyers are not permitted to disclose what was discussed with the person even if the person never retains that attorney for any reason.
However, the attorney-client privilege can be lost. One way to lose the attorney-client privilege is for the client to disclose the information to others. If the client does not treat the information as confidential, the information loses its confidentiality privilege.
Another common way to lose the benefit of the attorney-client privilege is to meet with the attorney in the presence of others who do not need to be part of the conversation. In some cases, the other side has been able to find out what was discussed between the client and the lawyer when the client met with the attorney along with a family member or other individual. The presence of a third party at the attorney-client meeting may very well eliminate the attorney-client privilege with regard to whatever is discussed at that meeting in front of the third party.
There are exceptions. The attorney is allowed to have his/her staff at the meeting to help the attorney work on the case. Therefore, if the lawyer’s assistant, paralegal, partner or other co-worker is present to assist on the case, this would not compromise the attorney-client privilege. The client may also have someone present at the meeting without losing the attorney-client privilege if that person is reasonably necessary to help the client communicate the issues to the attorney. As an example, a client who is elderly or has mental issues might need the assistance of a friend or family member during a attorney-client meeting. However, having a friend or family member in the room for comfort could certainly be sufficient to eliminate the attorney-client privilege.