My friends know that I love classic movies. If you have not seen Harvey, Arsenic and Old Lace, Laura, and the original Judgment at Nuremberg, you are missing out. Harvey is my all-time favorite, and I have had that big white rabbit up in my office many times.
Today, I was watching the Montgomery Clift movie, I Confess, and I thought it was a good prelude to a discussion of attorney-client privilege.
In the movie, Montgomery Clift plays a priest who takes the confession of someone who has murdered someone. Through a series of events and because of circumstantial evidence, the priest is accused of the murder. Of course, the priest was innocent and knew the identity of the killer. Because of the clergy-penitent privilege, the priest could not identify the actual murderer. I will save the ending for the enjoyment of the reader. Although, I doubt I would have been as brave.
When someone with a Georgia DUI calls my office to discuss their case, they are protected by attorney-client privilege. Whether that prospective client actually hires me is irrelevant. This is an important thing for people to understand. The purpose of the privilege is so that people who need legal advice can be candid with their attorney. If a person cannot trust in the confidence of what they tell a lawyer, then the legal system will cease to exist.
The most basic and complete understanding of the privilege can be summed up in the following way: Anyone who seeks the advice and counsel of an attorney shall be completely secure in knowing that what is told to the lawyer will not be revealed to any third party. The only exception is when there is express permission from the client or through the client's waiver thereof.
That All Being Said:
Lawyers do not have to stay on a case where the client is putting them in uncomfortable situations. One such example is when a young person asks his lawyer not to divulge to his parents, who have paid the fee, important details about the case.
The client still holds the privilege; however, the lawyer does not have to remain on the case. I would rather refund the legal fee and dismiss the client, then put up with that nonsense. As an attorney, I am perfectly in my right to refuse to represent someone, unless they waive a privilege. I will not be a conduit for one person to lie to another.
That all being said, even in a situation where I remove myself from a case due to a conflict with a client, anything told to me by the client will still remain in 100% confidence.