Issue: Attorney-Client Privilege (also known as Legal Professional Privilege or Solicitor-Client Privilege) and Work-Product Protection (also known as Litigation Privilege)

Significance: A robust application of the attorney-client privilege around the world is crucial in order “to encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients” (Upjohn, 449 U.S. at 399). When clients are uninhibited by the fear of their statements to an attorney becoming evidence, attorneys are able to provide more thorough and accurate legal advice. The privilege also promotes the public interest by helping corporate clients assess and comply with their many obligations under the law. ACC constantly reviews cases to determine whether it should intervene to defend the privilege concerns of in-house counsel and their corporate clients.

The work product doctrine or litigation privilege is crucial to ensure that corporate clients and their attorneys can analyze and prepare for existing and anticipated litigation. Specifically, the work product rule preserves a zone of privacy in which counsel can prepare and develop legal theories and strategies “with an eye toward litigation,” without fear that their work product will be used against their clients. Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 510-11 (1947). Like the attorney-client privilege, work product protection promotes the rendering of effective legal services as well as corporate compliance with the law. In the corporate context, the doctrine is particularly important insofar as it enables companies to obtain full and accurate legal advice regarding the litigation risks of proposed business transactions.

Description: The attorney-client privilege is “the oldest of the privileges for confidential communications known to the common law” (Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 389 (1981)). The privilege generally requires proof of the five Cs: (1) a Communication (oral or written) (2) between a Client (3) and Counsel (4) in Confidence (5) for the purpose of obtaining or providing legal Counsel.

The work product doctrine (or litigation privilege abroad) shields from discovery “documents and tangible things that are prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial by or for another party or its representative (including the other party’s attorney, consultant, surety, indemnitor, insurer, or agent).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(3)(A). There are two categories of work product: fact and opinion. Fact work product is discoverable only upon a showing of “substantial need” and by demonstrating that one cannot otherwise obtain the “substantial equivalent” of such materials without “undue hardship.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(3)(A). Opinion work product consists of “the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of a party’s attorney or other representative concerning the litigation.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3)(B). Opinion work product is discoverable only upon a showing of rare and exceptional circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are dual-purpose communications made for both legal and business purposes protected?
A: Yes. As the D.C. Circuit recently held (agreeing with ACC), the privilege applies so long as a “significant” purpose of the communication was to obtain or provide legal advice. In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 756 F.3d 754, 758-59 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

Q: Are internal investigations into employee misconduct protected by attorney-client privilege?
A: Internal investigations may be protected if one of their primary (or significant) purposes was to obtain legal advice and if they were conducted by or under the supervision of counsel.

Q: Who is the “client” in the corporate context?
A: In Upjohn, the Supreme Court rejected the “control group” theory that limited the privilege to communications between high-level managers and their attorneys. Upjohn adopted a functional approach to determining the “client” in the corporate context that examines whether the communications at issue were made by employees with relevant information that was necessary to secure legal advice.

Q: What materials does the work product doctrine protect?
A: Work product applies only to “documents and tangible things,” not to a witness’s testimony.

Q: Does work-product protection apply to non-attorneys?
A: Yes. In some jurisdictions, the rule extends to materials prepared for or by a “party or its representative.” Thus, there is no requirement that the communications be made to or by attorneys or are prepared by attorneys. In particular, material prepared by accountants may be protected by the work-product doctrine.

Q: How does the work-product doctrine differ from the attorney-client privilege?
A: First, work product is not limited to communications. Second, work product applies to materials prepared by parties and their representatives, even, in some jurisdictions, if no attorney is involved. Third, the work-product privilege is not automatically waived by disclosure to third persons. Rather, courts generally find a waiver only if the disclosure “substantially increases the opportunity for potential adversaries to obtain the information.” Frank Betz Assocs., Inc., v. Jim Walter Homes, Inc., 226 F.R.D. 533, 535 (D.S.C. 2005).

Q: What does the phrase “anticipation of litigation” mean?
A: In determining whether a document was prepared “in anticipation of litigation,” courts ask whether it was prepared or obtained “because of” the prospect of litigation. United States v. Roxworthy, 457 F.3d 590, 593 (6th Cir. 2006). The test has both subjective and objective elements: “(1) whether a document was created because of a party’s subjective anticipation of litigation, as contrasted with an ordinary business purpose, and (2) whether that subjective anticipation of litigation was objectively reasonable.” Id. at 594. “[L]litigation need not already have commenced or be imminent; rather, litigation must be a real possibility at the time the documents in question are prepared.” Evergreen Trading, LLC, 80 Fed.Cl. at 132. Litigation includes adversarial proceedings before an administrative tribunal. Id.

Attorney Client Privilege Advocacy

ACC Supports U.S. Supreme Court Review Of New York’s Physical Office Requirement For Attorneys

  • ACC Position: 

    ACC filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in Ekaterina Schoenefeld v. Eric T. Schneiderman, et al. on January 19, supporting a petition to review the constitutionality of a New York law requiring nonresident New York-licensed attorneys … Continue reading

ACC Files Letter Urging UK Financial Conduct Authority to Omit Head of Legal Function from Senior Managers Regime

  • ACC Position: 

    On January 9, 2017, ACC submitted a letter to the United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in response to regulations including the head of the legal function in the Senior Managers Regime (SMR). ACC argues the effort, aimed increasing accountability … Continue reading

ACC Supports Proposed Rule on Privilege Between Clients and Patent Practitioners at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board

  • ACC Position: 

    On December 19th, ACC and its Intellectual Property Committee filed comments with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office in support of its proposed rule recognizing privileged communications between clients and patent practitioners at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”). … Continue reading

FILING UPDATE: ACC’s Stance against Internal Law Firm Privilege Rejected by New York Court of Appeals

  • ACC Position: 

    ACC’s stance against internal law firm privilege was rejected by the New York Court of Appeals in Stock v. Schnader, Harrison, Lewis & Segal (see our amicus brief here). In its amicus brief, ACC argued attorney-client privilege exists to serve the interests of clients and … Continue reading

ACC Files Amicus in Support of Lower Court’s Adoption of Rule Regarding Common Interest Privilege Protections

  • Issue:  Whether information shared between companies and their counsel during a merger was protected from disclosure by common-interest privilege
  • Court:  Court of Appeals of the State of New York
  • Date of Filing:  03/17/2016

  • ACC Position: 

    On March 17, 2016, the ACC, in conjunction with The Chamber of Commerce of the United States, filed an Amicus brief in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York to argue that the applicability of common-interest privilege … Continue reading

D.C. Circuit Got It Right

C. Evan Stewart has published a provocative commentary in the New York Law Journal, arguing that the D.C. Circuit undermined privilege protection with its decision in June. For those of you that have been following this case, that argument might … Continue reading

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