Discretion and Confidentiality

This past weekend a fellow trial lawyer called to discuss strategy for an upcoming trial. Before I had a chance to ask who opposing counsel was or who the parties were, he launched into intimate details and issues about the case and one of the parties.

Here’s the problem. First, I know opposing counsel very well. He’s a friend.

Second, I know the person who this attorney was sharing uncomfortable and probably confidential facts about. Things were said that shouldn’t have been mentioned or disclosed. Frankly, it made me wonder what this attorney has said to other people about things we’ve discussed over the years.

Once I figured out who he was talking about, I quickly interrupted him and advised him not to discuss the matter any further with me. I told him I had a personal relationship with several of the involved people and furthermore, that the disclosure of some of the information sounded as though it might be protected by the attorney/client privilege.

I think my friend was stressed and just wanted to talk trial strategy. I get that. But, after getting off the phone, the conversation reminded me that it’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of keeping privileged information confidential. At the same time, to be discreet with what we information we are told by clients, opposing counsel and even judges.

It’s our duty as lawyers and it’s our responsibility and professionals. We need to be smart about what we say and who we say it to.

There’s no doubt that you can quickly become the center of attention at a gathering or party by discussing “unknown” information with those who will listen. In many instances, the information is very juicy and will attract interest. In high profile cases, lawyers are asked all the time for the “inside” scoop about a particular celebrity client or professional athletes off the field issues.

If you find yourself in this situation, DON’T DO IT! Resist the temptation. Do not discuss things you should keep to yourself and in some instances, information that you may be legally and ethically required to keep confidential.

When you violate someone’s confidence, it can and will come back to nip you in the butt—or worse. And it should!

The best interest of your clients should always come first. Confidential and protected facts, issues and communications should be respected and protected. That’s your professional and ethical duty as a lawyer.

There’s a pretty good chance that when you do lack discretion in what you reveal, those people who you share the confidential information with will, behind your back, wonder what you say about them when they’re not around. If these people are also clients, the backlash of disclosing confidential information can and will be humiliating and embarrassing. Chances are, you’ll also lose business because of your lack of discretion.

Always remember to maintain a respectful, professional and consistent approach to keeping private matters confidential. Instruct and remind your support team of this important requirement long ago embedded in the foundation of our profession. Your unwavering attention to discretion and confidentiality will assure long-term confidence and respect from your clients, friends, and peers.

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