E-mail is an easy and convenient way to communicate with clients, especially when you are providing a brief follow-up or update on a situation. If you e-mail a client at their work e-mail address, however, their employer might have the right to view those e-mails.

With that in mind, be sure to proceed with caution when sending e-mails to clients to protect the attorney-client privilege.

State courts have reached different decisions

The California Court of Appeals recently found that a client’s e-mail to her attorney, regarding her plans to sue her employer, was not privileged. The court said her e-mail was the equivalent of consulting her attorney in her employer’s conference room using a loud voice and leaving the door open. Notably, this e-mail exchange occurred on the company’s servers, through the client’s work e-mail address.

In New Jersey, a court held that emails sent from a Gmail account, or another web-based account, were still private and confidential.

There are numerous solutions

Instead of sending an e-mail, pick up the phone and call your client. Talking with your client is more likely to strengthen your attorney-client relationship. Having a five-minute conversation is also more efficient than sending ten e-mails back and forth.

If you need to send an e-mail, send it to your client’s personal e-mail address. Many clients are inclined to use their work e-mail address because it is right in front of them and easy to use during the day. Convenience, however, means nothing when it invalidates the attorney-client privilege. If a client is savvy enough to use work e-mail, they undoubtedly have a personal e-mail address.

Clients should also be advised to access their personal e-mail address through a web-interface, instead of setting up Microsoft Outlook to receive all their personal and work e-mails. You could also tell clients to use their own internet accessible device—netbook, iPad, smartphone—to communicate with you while they are at work.

You can still e-mail clients, just be careful about what you send and where you send it.

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3 responses to “Emailing a Client at Work May Invalidate the Attorney-Client Privilege”

  1. This actually frightens me a tad since I think I’ve lapsed quite a bit. I have been mindful of company email where they were possibly adverse parties, but this is a good heads up.

  2. Susan GAinen says:

    Just when I thought that my list of the pitfalls of various kinds of electronic activity was complete 1,222,556,973, give or take a million), you’ve added one more.

    Thanks, Randall.

  3. Tom Matte says:

    I would agree that a personal Gmail account should fall under private and confidential. It would seem clear that an Outlook email with the companies name in the address would not be considered private.

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