By Gabriel Montemuro

 

Reprinted with permission from the February 28th edition of the The Legal Intelligencer © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

Further duplication without permission is prohibited

The attorney-client privilege is the well-known and long-established court recognized protection of the substantive communications between an individual and his or her appointed counsel. The privilege protects litigants and their counsel from testifying or otherwise disclosing confidential communications between them despite the communications’ potential relevance or probative value. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5928; See also In re Grand Jury, 705 F.3d 133, 151 (3d. Cir. 2012). 

The attorney-client privilege is designed to foster a public policy that encourages clients to make full disclosure of facts to their attorneys and to allow counsel to properly, competently, and ethically carry out representation.  Idenix Pharm. V. Gilead Sci., Inc., 2016 WL 4060098 at 1 (D. Del. 2016).  The privilege further fosters full and frank communications between counsel and their clients, thereby promoting public interests in law and the administration of justice.  See J.N. S. W. School Dist., 55 F.Supp.3d 589, 598 (M.D. Pa. 2014); See also Magnetar Tech. Corp. v. Six Flags Theme Park Inc., 886 F.Supp.2d 466, 477 (D. Del. 2012).

The attorney-client privilege is widely recognized as a nearly insurmountable bar to discovery, however confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client may still be discoverable in limited circumstances.  The privilege may be waived, either expressly by consent or implicitly by disclosing communications at issue to a third party, or by failing to timely assert the privilege.  See Serrano v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, 298 F.R.D. 271, 284 (W.D. Pa. 2014); see also Law Office of Phila. Waterfront Partners, 957 A.2d 1223, 1233 (Pa. Super. 2008); Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Fleming, 924 A.2d 1259, 1265 (Pa. Super. 2007).

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Reprinted with permission from the June 24, 2016 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2016 ALM Media Properties. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

The digital age and pervasive use of email communication gives rise to an entirely new and complex set of issues pertaining to the application of the attorney client privilege and the potential claim for waiver of that privilege.  Many commentators have addressed the use of commercial email servers and the implications of the terms and conditions applicable to such email accounts citing the potential that emails transmitted through such accounts may not be secure or protected.  The commercial provider’s right to use, retain or review the information communicated may impact on the privilege.   Even more complex are the issues that arise when email communications pass between a lawyer and a client utilizing an email account provided to the employee by the employee’s employer, or using an employer provided computer. While the law on an employer’s right to review information passing through its computer systems is continuing to develop, the application of that law to potentially attorney client privileged communications is in its infancy.   Research regarding the application of attorney client privilege to email communications exchanged through an employer’s email server reveals no case directly on point where the advice of counsel is sought regarding matters involving the employer.   

Litigants seeking discovery of attorney client communications through an employer sponsored email account cite the principles developed in cases of inadvertent disclosure and the requirements for invoking the attorney client privilege.  Pennsylvania law permits the invocation of the privilege if the communication relates to a fact of which the attorney was informed by his client, without the presence of strangers, for the purpose of securing either an opinion of law, legal services or assistance in a legal matter.   Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Fleming, 924 A.2d 1259 (Pa.Super. 2007).  In Carbis Walker, LLPv. Hill Barth and King, LLP, 930 A.2d 573 (Pa.Super.2007), the Superior Court adopted the five factor test to determine whether inadvertent disclosure amounted to a waiver of the attorney client privilege; (1) the reasonableness of the precautions taken to prevent inadvertent disclosure in view of the extent of the document production; (2) the number of inadvertent disclosures;(3) the extent of the disclosure;(4) the delay and measures taken to rectify the disclosure; and (5) whether the overriding interests of justice would or would not be served by relieving the party of its errors.

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