The confidentiality of communications between attorneys and their clients is protected by a rule known as the attorney-client privilege. The privilege is important because it lets clients speak openly about their issues of concern and allows attorneys to provide legal advice in response to those inquiries. As a general rule, Courts cannot require a party to disclose communications that are protected by the attorney-client privilege. The privilege protects communications made orally, in writing, in person, over the telephone, in letters or in emails.
The Office of General Counsel (OGC) represents American University. The OGC does not represent University employees in their personal legal matters. However, when a University employee asks OGC for legal assistance with a work-related matter, the communications related to the matter are protected by the attorney-client privilege. This privilege belongs to the University.
We encourage you to label communications seeking legal advice to OGC with “Attorney-Client Communication—Privileged and Confidential.” It is a good practice to maintain those communications in a file that is separate from other, non-privileged files.
Both the University’s attorneys and AU employees have an obligation to protect the University’s privilege. This means confidential and privileged material and communications should not be disclosed to people outside the University or with those who are not directly involved in the legal issues under discussion, absent approval from the OGC. If you have any doubt about whether something may be disclosed, please err on the side of not disclosing the material and contact OGC for further advice.
- Within the University, limit your discussions about attorney-client communications, including written communications from University attorneys to those who have been identified by OGC as having a need to know.
- Do not distribute written communications—including emails—written by, or directed to, University attorneys to anyone outside the University without OGC’s permission.
- The privilege only applies if the purpose of the communication is to seek legal advice from an OGC attorney. Consequently, email communications are not covered by the privilege simply because an OGC attorney is copied on the email or because you have marked it as privileged.
If you have any questions about the attorney-client privilege, please contact OGC’s help desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-885-3285 to speak with an OGC attorney.