A primary duty of a Maryland attorney in representing a client is to “preserve inviolate” the confidences of a client. In other words, a Maryland attorney has a legal and professional obligation to protect nearly all communications with a client from disclosure to a third party. This level of confidentiality typically is referred to as the “attorney-client privilege.”
When the attorney-client privilege accrues
The attorney-client privilege is established when a client communicates something verbally or in writing to its lawyer. Two key elements must be in place in order for the presumption of attorney-client privilege to exist:
- An existing attorney-client relationship
- A communication made in private or in confidence
If a criminal defense lawyer and client meet and a third party is in the room at the time, the communication between legal counsel and the client is not deemed protected by the attorney-client privilege. Because of the presence of a third party at the time of the communication, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy or confidentiality.
Exceptions to the attorney-client privilege
A presumption of the attorney-client privilege can be overcome in certain limited situations in Maryland. An attorney may reveal information communicated from a client to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm, prevent a client from committing a crime or fraud and to prevent or mitigate financial damage to another. An attorney may also reveal a client communication to secure legal advice about compliance with the rules of professional responsibility, to establish a defense in a controversy between that lawyer and client and to comply with the rules of professional responsibility, an applicable law or order of a court.