Most people have some idea that attorneys are able to keep a secret. Few people understand that attorneys are absolutely required to keep a secret. We swear an oath upon admission to The Florida Bar. But it is more than an oath – it is a rule of the profession that is never optional. In other words: attorneys must keep perfectly mum about anything regarding their client and it is a violation of Bar rules to release a secret. The relationship that ensures secrets are kept secret is the Attorney-Client relationship. The core of that relationship is the duty to keep secrets. Here is an excerpt of the oath we take: “I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my clients, and will accept no compensation in connection with their business except from them or with their knowledge and approval.”
The oath to maintain secrets is extremely strong and is part of the behavior of both attorneys and judges. It is so strong a concept that a judge will not order an attorney to discuss those secrets. All communications between a client and an attorney stay secret, now and forever. An extreme but true example: if a client visits an attorney and pulls out a severed head … the attorney cannot divulge that secret. Of course I would drop a client if that ever happened. But that is an example of the power of attorney-client privilege. An exception to the privilege is a statement of intent to commit a future crime. That is something that is not shielded from disclosure.
So what does all of that mean for clients? First, a client can feel free to discuss strategy, make comments, and talk about skeletons in their closet. If the skeletons are huge, an attorney is one of the few types of people in the world where almost anything said is safe. Second, a client can discuss possible consequences if their past behavior is discovered. An attorney is allowed to go over different courses of action to lighten possible penalties for past behavior. Finally, a client that simply wants advice on a possible illegal activity can receive counseling on the possible consequences for that activity. As long as there are no actual plans to commit a future crime an attorney can help you make decisions on your future behavior.
An attorney cannot advise you to hide assets, disobey a court order, or to commit fraud on the court. If you insist on discussing that you will find your attorney making a quick exit.
Secrets are the most important thing an attorney can deal with. You should take advantage of that and get everything off your chest. You will feel better, your attorney will do a better job, and your case will end up in a better position.