You only need passing familiarity with the American legal system to know that attorney-client privilege is one of its most important features. But what exactly does “attorney-client privilege” mean? What are its limits?

If you’re facing any kind of investigation from federal or state authorities into possible criminal activity, this is something you need to know.

What does attorney-client privilege mean?

Essentially, attorney-client privilege ensures your right to confidential communications with your attorney. Generally speaking, this means that whatever you tell your attorney can’t be revealed to anybody else — a fact that also helps protect your right against self-incrimination.

What’s the point of attorney-client privilege?

Without attorney-client privilege, clients would be (rightly) terrified of telling their attorneys the truth. Since the attorney might not know all of the facts of a situation, that would make it much harder to provide proper counsel.

What are some of the limits on attorney-client privilege?

Only the confidential information you give to your attorney in private can be considered privileged. Your conversations with your attorney, no matter how personal, can’t be considered privileged if you have them in front of another person who isn’t part of your attorney-client relationship.

For example, if your neighbor goes with you to your attorney’s office for moral support, things that you say in front of your neighbor couldn’t be considered confidential.

Your attorney can also reveal confidences when it is necessary to prevent someone’s likely death or bodily harm, stops a client from committing a crime that could damage another person’s financial interests or property, and in a few other situations.

If you’re at all unclear about whether communications with your attorney will be considered confidential and covered by attorney-client privilege, address the issue before you start.