From the law point of view can I tell my lawyer EVERYTHING knowing that he is NOT allowed to disclose anything I tell him including crimes I did in the past or crimes I am planning to commit in the future?

  • Short answer: no. You might want to search for exceptions to the attorney-client privilege. In the U.S., things like future crimes generally aren't privileged. If you sue your lawyer for malpractice, confidentiality also gets suspended (so the attorney can make a defense). The idea behind the privilege is to make sure you feel free to discuss all the details pertinent to the issue at hand (rather than an issue that's not at hand...).
    – Pat W.
    Oct 27 '15 at 19:50
  • I know that in the UK if you tell your barrister that you actually committed the crime, the barrister becomes limited in the defense he or she may pursue.
    – Viktor
    Nov 24 '15 at 22:45

Firstly, legal professional privilege applies only when information is disclosed for the purpose of obtaining legal advice. Talking about a bad haircut you got last week is probably not protected by legal professional privilege.

Secondly, all privileged communications and documents are confidential and protected. However, there are certain exceptions to legal professional privilege - such information is not privileged, not confidential and may be disclosed.

Finally, there is an exception to legal professional privilege. This is where documents form part of a criminal or fraudulent act, or communications that take place with the intention of carrying out an offence - from the Law Society Chapter on legal professional privilege, 6.4.5. It goes on to enumerate a number of exceptions to legal professional privilege:

  • Intention of furthering a criminal purpose
    If a client (or a third party) intends that the communication is made to further a criminal purpose, it is not privileged.
  • Knowing a transaction constitutes an offence
    If the transaction is an offence, the lawyer also commits an offence - these communications are also not privileged.

In answer to your question - information about past crimes is privileged, however, information provided in order to obtain advice on committing future crimes is not.


tl;dr: Definitely not.

The UK's concept of legal privilege includes the: a) legal advice privilege, and b) litigation privilege.

This UK vs. US comparison on privilege is a good read. I'd initially hesitated to include it since it's tailored towards corporate law, however, it might be helpful to two audiences:

  1. Those reading this question from a business/non-profit perspective
  2. Individuals with more complicated circumstances
  3. Those who'd like to see a few good examples that differentiate the UK's legal advice privilege from the litigation privilege

Of course, there are differences, but a rough translation into US terms would equate the legal advice privilege with attorney-client privilege and the litigation privilege with attorney work-product doctrine. US procedure stems from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 26.

In most cases this latter doctrine shields work prepared by or for an attorney (e.g. an attorney's personal reflections, thoughts on strategy, a consultant's assessment). It's helpful to have this in mind while reading the comparison.

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