In regards, to, establishing attorney-client privilege, and the related attorney-client confidentiality. What would happen if someone else paid for your legal counsel?

Do all the rules remain the same regardless of who pays the bill, or is it maybe in your best interest to have your noble benefactor send you the money and just pay the bill yourself. (If at all possible.)

  • Not a duplicate, but see also this question.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 19:56
  • Interesting. I was reading some old papers of my grandfather's (in Germany) where he had paid the legal costs for a relative to defend himself in court. The lawyer in return gave him regular reports on the progress of the case, but I guess that either (a) this was with the defendant's consent, or (b) it didn't actually disclose any client-confidential information. Perhaps also relevant is that the lawyer was a personal friend. Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 17:04

4 Answers 4


Generally speaking, the rules remain the same regardless of who pays the bill.

The American Bar Association's Model Rule of Professional Responsibility 1.8(f) confirms that the lawyer's duty to act in the client's best interest and preserve the client's confidences must not be interfered with when the lawyer is paid by one other than the client:

A lawyer shall not accept compensation for representing a client from one other than the client unless:

  1. the client gives informed consent;

  2. there is no interference with the lawyer's independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship; and

  3. information relating to representation of a client is protected as required by Rule 1.6 [confidentiality].

This means that the lawyer must advise the client to act against the interests of the person paying the bill, if that is in the best interests of the client. For example, in the situation where a company pays for an employee to get independent legal advice about a settlement with the company, the lawyer would have to advise the client (employee) not to settle if the company was offering a bad deal.

Of course, the real world is complex and people do not usually provide carte blanche to a law firm to represent potentially hostile third parties. The situation may arise where the lawyer's duty to act in the client's best interest conflicts with their desire to maintain a relationship with the person paying the bills. In this case, the lawyer must end one of the relationships. Such ethical issues are further discussed in the ABA article When a Third Party Pays the Legal Fees (2019).


There have been cases in the UK where paying someone's legal bills was interpreted as joining their case. So when A with no money libels someone, and B with deep pockets pays A's lawyer, then B risks being held liable for damages if A gets convicted. So B should be very careful. Just giving you money is probably the safest.

But attorney-client privilege is between attorney and client. I have been laid off twice with my company asking me to take an employment lawyer and paying for it. (Interestingly each time the bill was exactly the maximum amount the company was willing to pay :-) It would have been absurd if my company could demand information that is under attorney-client privilege just because they paid the bill.

Why did two companies pay the lawyers bill? Because that way they ensure that the separation is without problems. The lawyer explained the settlement contract and what it meant exactly. They also checked that the contract didn’t contain anything unacceptable which the company would have fixed. So if I had tried to sue them later I would have no chance to win (but there was no reason to sue). Another reason not to sue was that the company offered I settlement that was very significantly more than was legally required, but if you sued them you would only get what you got in court - most likely less than you would get without suing.

So basically they paid to make sure I would have no reason to sue them later.

  • 2
    how can B be liable for damages if B did not commit the libel? Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 13:37
  • 4
    "There have been cases in the UK where paying someone's legal bills was interpreted as joining their case." Can you give citations? Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 16:00
  • 1
    Wait what, what's in it for the company if they pay for your lawyer? What would you need the lawyer for to begin with, if not for a case against the company itself...?
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 19:23
  • 1
    @ilkkachu: Possibly to explain terms of a severance agreement, or to explain other agreements signed during the course of employment that become particularly important at severance (non-compete, etc)
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 19:54
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    +1 Ben, @ilkkachu it's to ensure you have a clear understanding of what is being offered. Although the company is paying the bill the lawyer has a professional obligation to advise you in your best interests. In the UK it's generally in your best interests to agree with the settlement being offered so the Company is happy to fund the advice and draw a line under the relationship.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 20:15

As someone who was in this situation in real life (A third party in the form of an uninvolved family member paid my legal fees), attorney-client privelege remained with me in full. There was a limited privelege that existed between the attorney and the third party that only was on matters related to the financing of my specific case (i.e. the bills, the payment options, ect). It would not cover any discussion of our legal strategy if I had told that third party and I informed this person that I was not able to discuss conversations I had with my attorney and the reason why while the case was ongoing but would be able to discuss upon resolution.

While my attorney did comment that the situation was unusual, it was only unusual in that there was a little more paperwork that we had to do and wasn't that intrusive beyond that.

  • I think I may be slightly misunderstood. I was asking more if the government could contest the privilege in court because someone else paid the bill. If this could somehow hurt you in a criminal case.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 18:22
  • It may require an edit from my part to clarify. I will just let this question mature a bit before any edit. I don't want to invalidate existing answers with a hamfisted edit.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 18:24
  • @NeilMeyer No, not in the U.S. Many people rely on crowd sourced "Legal Defense Funds." In fact, I remember a case where someone claimed they did not have to pay legal fees after they lost the case because the person who won funded his defense through third party and the judge ruled in the favor of the case winner and forced payment of legal fees. For the record, in the time above, I was the plaintiff in a civil matter.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 18:28
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    @NeilMeyer I believe you might be under the mistaken belief that Attorney Client privilege attaches once payment of the Attorney's services by the Client are made. Financial transactions are not required for the privilege to attach and it usually happens prior to payment anyway.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 18:41
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    @gnasher729 Pretty much. I generally take the assumption that the moment you consult as part of the client intake process (which is often free) it the benefits attach.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 21:06

In regards, to, establishing attorney-client privilege, and the related attorney-client confidentiality. What would happen if someone else paid for your legal council?

Nothing. Attorney-client privilege is the CLIENTS privilege, not the attorney’s or the benefactors. It basically starts when the client starts talking. Same for confidentiality. It can’t be preempted by a 3rd party paying the attorneys bill (nor the client refusal of payment).

It has to be that way or it wouldn’t exist. Information would simply go to the highest bidder. Now, you may say that can happen anyway, but part of the bid includes compensation for loss of license and possible jail time.

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