What is the History of Attorney Client Privilege in the United States?

Erick Widman

The attorney-client privilege is a long-standing legal doctrine that protects the confidentiality of communications between an attorney and their client. The history of the attorney-client privilege in the United States can be traced back to English common law, which recognized the importance of allowing clients to speak freely with their lawyers in order to receive effective legal counsel.

In the United States, the attorney-client privilege was first recognized by the Supreme Court in the case of United States v. Burr in 1807. In that case, Chief Justice John Marshall held that a client’s confidential communications with their attorney were protected from disclosure, unless the client waived the privilege or there was a compelling reason to override it.

Over time, the attorney-client privilege has become a fundamental aspect of the legal system in the United States. It is recognized in all 50 states and is protected by both state and federal law. The privilege is codified in the Federal Rules of Evidence and many state rules of evidence, and it is also recognized in the common law.

The scope of the attorney-client privilege has been the subject of much litigation over the years, and the law in this area continues to evolve. However, in general, the privilege protects any confidential communication between an attorney and their client that is made for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or services. The privilege does not, however, apply to communications that are made in furtherance of a crime or fraud.

Overall, the attorney-client privilege plays a crucial role in the legal system by allowing clients to speak candidly with their lawyers, which in turn helps ensure that clients receive effective representation and that the justice system functions fairly and efficiently.

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