To foster open and honest communications with counsel, it is critically important that those communications are protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. But, not every communication with counsel is privileged, and knowing when a communication with counsel is protected can sometimes prove difficult. Given an increasingly complex regulatory landscape, more and more attorneys—particularly in-house attorneys—are wearing dual hats as both lawyers and business advisors. As a lawyer, communications may be privileged; but if acting as a business advisor, communications may be subject to disclosure.
Since the corporate setting doesn’t lend itself to bifurcating legal and business communications, what happens when the lines are blurred or when a communication serves both purposes?
The “Primary Purpose” Test
Many courts, like the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Second, Fifth, Sixth, and D.C. Circuits, require that for a communication to be protected by the attorney-client privilege, the “primary purpose” of the communication must be to give or receive legal advice. Attorney-client privilege does not apply to business, commercial, or tax advice. Under this method of analysis, courts look to the content of a communication to determine its predominant or primary purpose.