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The Privilege of Talking with Your Lawyer
Posted 08.08.17
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Jonathan A. Segal
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I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

Almost every HR professional deals with an attorney. With strong relationships, sometimes you will refer to the lawyer as your lawyer. Not so fast. Here are 6 recommendations to keep in mind when you deal with “the” lawyer:

1. The lawyer engaged by the Company represents the Company and not you. So be honest about work issues but be careful about issues that may be adverse to the Company. If you are thinking of exercising your legal right to bring a claim, do not give the Company’s lawyer a heads up! He or she, ethically, cannot retain your confidence.

2. The attorney-client relationship covers only communications in which you ask for advice on behalf of the Company or the attorney gives advice to the Company through you.  It does not cover, for example, an offensive “joke” that you tell the Company’s lawyer in confidence.  By the way, don’t tell the “jokes.” Full stop.

3.  While only the Company can waive the attorney-client privilege, steps HR takes may be used to argue the Company has indeed waived the privilege. So, do not tell others, except those within the Company with a need to know (narrowly defined and fact specific) about the legal advice provided.

4. Label e-mails where you seek or respond to legal advice “privileged and confidential” or “attorney-client privileged.” Avoid labels that may imply such but still can be less than fun to address in litigation, such as “Help! I am going to jail.” You should win on the privilege issue but who wants to win an issue that can be avoided.

5. Do not put “privileged and confidential” or “attorney-client privileged” on business documents. That does not shield it from discovery. It only makes the label, where you legitimately have it, questionable. If everything is privileged, then nothing is.

6. If you have a conversation with the Company’s counsel and a manager during which you make a business decision, that decision was made in a privileged call. Unless you want to risk having to disclose what you discussed, including the risks of the business decision, have a separate business conversation with the manager and without the lawyer.

These are but a few issues to consider when dealing with the Company’s counsel. More to common in a future blog!

Oh, by the law: this is not legal advice :-).

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About Jonathan A. Segal
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Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .