When a client meets with me, I want them to “tell me where the bodies are buried.” Tell me everything – good, bad, and embarrassing – because I need that to develop your best defense.

In nearly all cases, our conversations cannot be revealed to others – your family, the DA, the judge — unless you want them to. This is called “attorney-client privilege.”

You may hear in the news about Donald Trump’s attorneys being required to testify about things he told them. That is a rare exception to attorney-client privilege. It’s called the “crime-fraud exception.”

Everything you tell me that occurred in the past is always protected by attorney-client privilege. But if you tell me that you are currently doing something or plan to do something that is illegal or that would defraud someone, I may later be required to tell someone.

In such cases, I don’t have to turn you in, but we will need to work something out. I will not be party to a crime. I will strongly advise you not to commit a crime or fraud and can help you work your way out of an ongoing crime or fraud. In a worst-case scenario, I may need to withdraw as your counsel. But even in that case, I don’t have to tell the judge why.

The most important thing to remember: be honest and forthcoming with your attorney. A lot of the nitty-gritty details may never see the light of day, but I want to have a plan in case they do. The second thing to remember: Don’t be a Donald. Don’t expect your attorney to help you break the law.

One final thing: It’s important to know that if there are other people involved in our conversations, there can be a breach of our attorney-client privilege. It’s common for my clients to have family and friends in the room during our initial meeting. When the conversation gets into details, you or I may ask the others to leave the room. They conceivably could be subpoenaed to testify, and what they heard in the room is not protected by attorney-client privilege.


1. CBA Rule of Pro Conduct 1.6 Confidentiality of information

2. Justia: The crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege

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