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Alona    Client confidentiality and privacy

 

As you may know, when an individual hires a lawyer, inherent in that relationship is the lawyer-client confidentiality rule. This means that anything the client tells the lawyer will remain with that lawyer – it will be kept private and confidential. There are very few exceptions to this rule.

Over the years I have found that this is a rule that is often misunderstood in our community. For instance, I am approached or hired by many individuals who know either a friend or relative of mine. I was probably even recommended by that friend or relative. However, just because there is that connection does not mean that I will share any information regarding my private conversations or dealings with the client with either the friend or relative who recommended them to me in the first place. In fact, I won’t even acknowledge or advise my friend or relative that I was contacted or hired by that individual. Not unless the client authorizes it or they are the ones who disclose the information themselves (which is what normally happens).

I can recall many instances when a friend of my parents would hire my services and then later run into my parents somewhere in the community and they begin talking – the client almost always voluntarily advises my parents about their dealings with me. My parents would later comment to me that they didn’t know that so and so was my client. And the reason for this is because I do not divulge the names of my clients, regardless of their relationship to my family or me.

Seeing my clients in public either at the mall, a restaurant, or at some social gathering is also sometimes awkward. Most clients have no problems with other people knowing that they have hired a lawyer. However, there are some individuals that are absolutely against anyone finding out that they have “a lawyer.” This poses a dilemma for us lawyers in the community. When we see a client do we say hello or do we ignore them? Even the friendly nod most Filipinos tend to give each other might be unwelcome. Generally, we can get a sense of whether a client would be upset if we acknowledge them in public or not. However, sometimes we can never be too sure. What if we think it’ll be OK so we go ahead and say hello but the client gets mad because we disclosed our relationship in public? That is why for me, I tend to wait for the client to acknowledge me first – unless of course I had a pre-existing relationship with the person before they became my client.

So, to all my clients and potential clients, if I don’t say hello or offer a smile or a nod in your direction, it’s not because I am ignoring you. It’s simply because I am trying to protect your confidentiality and privacy. If you don’t care that people know that I’m your lawyer, then please, by all means, say hello when you see me. The only thing I do ask is that you not inquire about your file while we are in public. If at all possible, I am against discussing files in public because of the lack of privacy. Always remember that the walls have ears or as Jasmine once told Julian in My Girl:

May tenga ang lupa, may mata ang dingding at mahaba ang dila ng balita.

The content of this article is not intended as legal advice and is for information purposes only. Should you require legal advice on a specific issue relating to the contents of this article, please seek the services of a legal professional. Alona C. Mercado is a lawyer practicing in Winnipeg with the law firm of MONK GOODWIN LLP. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1999 and the Ontario Bar in 2003. Her preferred areas of practice include wills and estates, committees, real estate, business and commercial transactions, and immigration law. Alona can be reached at (204) 956-1060 ext. 233 or amercado@monkgoodwin.com.

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