The Stormy Raid of Cohen's Office Strengthens the Attorney-Client Privilege

April 18, 2018  |  The Insider: White Collar Defense and Securities Enforcement

Despite tweets proclaiming the death of the attorney-client privilege, the government’s recent seizure of items from Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, actually serves to preserve and engender respect for the attorney-client privilege by demonstrating the limits of the privilege. The privilege is just that – a privilege, not a right – and the highly-publicized search of Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room reassures the public that an individual cannot hide behind the attorney-client privilege simply because they place an “Esq.” after their name. Even assuming the privilege applies in this case – which given recent revelations of the nature of the lawyer’s activity is debatable – the crime-fraud exception may well “trump” the privilege. That exception, which applies when a client or the lawyer seeks to use the attorney’s services or advice to commit wrongdoing, prevents the cloak of privilege from concealing communications engaged in for fraudulent or illegal purposes. Contrary to recent partisan declarations, this limit on the privilege, in addition to the procedural and legal safeguards that the government must navigate to seize materials from an attorney, insures public trust in the role of lawyers and the appropriate role of the privilege. If lawyers expect to continue to hold a trusted role in society, the proper contours of the important privilege with which they are entrusted needs to be understood and guarded. The crime-fraud exception prevents the exploitation of the attorney-client privilege, which would undermine the public’s respect for the privilege. [...]

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