The common interest doctrine (CID), also known as the community-of-interest doctrine, is an exception to the general rule that attorney-client privilege (ACP) is waived when privileged information is shared with a third party. The CID allows attorneys representing different clients with the same or substantially similar legal interests to agree to (and do) share privileged information without waiving the ACP.
For the CID to apply, (1) there must generally be co-parties (that is, co-plaintiffs or co-defendants—but the CID may also apply to communications between parties and nonparties, and sometimes in nonlitigation matters), (2) the co-parties must be represented by separate counsel (the CID is different from the co-client (or joint-client) privilege, which applies when multiple clients hire the same attorney to represent them on a matter of common interest), and (3) the co-parties must share a common legal interest, not merely a common commercial interest. Courts are divided on whether interests must be legally identical or somewhat less than that, such as substantially similar. And, of course, there must be an agreement among attorneys to share information.
If the above requirements are met, separate counsel for separate parties (or clients) may share information without waiving the ACP. In other words, the CID only protects communications between counsel, not between parties. Communications between parties are protected under the CID, however, if counsel is present during the communications. Continue reading →
Courts have long recognized that the attorney-client privilege extends to corporations, as in Upjohn v. United States, 449 U.S. 383 (1981). Because a corporation can act only through its agents, usually officers, a corporation’s attorney-client privilege generally applies to communications between the corporation’s authorized agents and counsel. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Upjohn, however, it is the corporation that holds the corporate attorney-client privilege, not individual officers.
On August 7, 2014, the Western District of Pennsylvania’s Judge Maurice B. Cohill, Jr. entered an order preliminary denying plaintiff’s motion to compel compliance with subpoena on counsel. In the case of Gary Miller Imports, Inc. v. Carter Dolittle, et al., plaintiff sought to compel the law firm of Macdonad Illig Jones & Britton, LLP to produce eight documents they felt did not fall under attorney-client privilege. Continue reading →