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The Attorney-Client Privilege

Since the days of Elizabethan England, the Attorney-Client privilege has preserved the confidentiality of communications between lawyers and their clients. The privilege is based on several closely-related policy considerations:

  • clients should be encouraged to be completely truthful with their attorneys, so that the attorney's legal advice can be based on all relevant facts;
  • clients will be reluctant to seek an attorney's advice if they fear that their communications will be revealed to others; and
  • by encouraging clients' communications with their attorneys, the privilege promotes voluntary compliance with laws and regulations.

While originally developed to protect individuals in their relationships with their attorneys, the privilege has for many years also applied to institutions. Thus, communications that Dartmouth officials have with College attorneys, in confidence, for the purpose of seeking legal advice concerning institutional legal matters are protected by the Attorney-Client privilege. Such communications are privileged whether they are oral or written.

It is important to remember that confidentiality is the key to preserving the privileged nature of the communication. If the substance of the Attorney-Client communication is disclosed to persons outside the institution -- or even to persons within the institution who are not directly involved in the matter -- the privilege may be lost. Therefore, when you have had confidential communications with College attorneys, you should not discuss those communications with anyone outside the College, and only with those persons inside the College who have a business need to know.

For the privilege to exist, the communication must be to, from, or with an attorney. In addition, the communication must be for the purpose of requesting or receiving legal advice. Thus, a memorandum from one administrator to another concerning a threatened legal action typically would not be privileged from discovery.

In requesting or receiving legal advice concerning College business, Dartmouth personnel may be assured that attorneys in the General Counsel's Office will preserve the privileged nature of all confidential communications.