Google Accused Of Taking Advantage Of Attorney Client Privilege
Most business owners know about attorney client privilege, and about how communications to your business or other type of attorney can never be revealed. But some businesses don’t understand the limitation of the privilege, and Google is now in trouble for allegedly trying to take advantage of it.
Limitations to the Privilege
Communication between you and your attorney that relates to the seeking or providing of legal advice or information, is certainly privileged. However, there are some limitations to the privileged, where information that you think is confidential, could potentially be revealed.
One big way that many companies get into trouble is by simply “ccing” attorneys on emails and then thinking that makes the email confidential. Simply including an attorney on an email does not shield the communication from public disclosure. In fact, simply giving any document to your attorney doesn’t make it privileged. A document doesn’t magically transform into a privileged private document just because you gave it to your attorney.
Google May Be in Trouble
Google is currently in trouble with the Department of Justice (DOJH) for doing just this.
The DOJ is alleging that in an effort to hide documents, google employees were instructed to cc attorneys on everything. In some cases, the employees were instructed to ask the attorney a question in the emails, even if the question was not a legal one, in an effort to make the emails look like legal advice was being sought, so that the emails could be confidential and private.
The DOJs allegations say that when emails had “trigger words,” that the company believed the DOJ may look for, employees were instructed to cc the attorneys.
The problem Google has, is that ccing an attorney does not make the communication one in which legal advice or guidance is given. The other problem is one that many business owners may face—waiver of the privilege.
If you walked into a room with your friend and your attorney, and asked your attorney a question in front of your friend, your friend would have to disclose what you told your attorney, if your friend was asked by a court or by the opposing side.
By having your friend—not a client of the attorney—hear what you said to your attorney, you potentially have waived the privilege.
Likewise, when you cc an attorney on what you say to an outside party, as Google did, it could be argued that you are waiving the attorney client privilege. This is especially true when the communication is between you and someone outside of your company, and you cc the attorney on the communication.
Who is Represented?
Make sure that you understand who your attorneys represent. Your attorney may represent either you, personally, or your company, but often is prohibited from representing both because of a conflict of interest (However, there are times when your attorney may represent both, if there is no conflict of interest).
Things you say to your attorney personally, may not be confidential, if the attorney represents the company and not you.
Call the West Palm Beach employment law attorneys at Pike & Lustig today to review your corporate policies, and make sure your business is as safe as possible.