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February 24, 2011

Attorney-Client Privilege a Two Way Street After All

by Jonathan B. Stepanian, Esq.

We previously wrote about the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s decision in Gillard v. AIG Insurance Co., where the intermediate appellate court held that only communications from a client to counsel are privileged and that the attorney-client privilege does not protect communications from counsel to client.  This decision was obviously concerning for legal counsel and clients across the state because it cast into doubt the breadth of what many considered sacrosanct.  The decision was even more problematic for many corporate or in-house counsel, whose interactions with their clients are intertwined with communications flowing in both directions.

However, yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its ruling on the issue and squarely held that the attorney-client privilege is a two-way street after all.  The 24 page opinion can be reduced to this:

We hold that, in Pennsylvania, the attorney-client privilege operates in a two-way fashion to protect confidential client-to-attorney or attorney-to-client communications made for the purpose of obtaining or providing professional legal advice.

It was important that the Supreme Court make a concise and definitive statement on this issue that lies at the very heart of the attorney-client relationship.  The ruling makes clear what many thought was sacrosanct: that clients can rely on the privacy and confidentiality afforded to their interactions with legal counsel.

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Jonathan B. Stepanian, Esq.

Jon is an attorney whose practice is specialized in litigation, complex medical professional liability defense, health care, and providing legal counsel on numerous issues associated with day-to-day hospital operations. He has successfully tried several cases to verdict as first-chair trial counsel before juries in both state and federal court. Jon has also represented clients in appellate litigation, mediation, and in connection with administrative agency investigations.

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