Attorney-Client Relationship

Lawyer-client relationship. — A lawyer-client relationship is of the highest fiduciary character. As a trust relation, it is essential that the engagement is founded on the confidence reposed by the client on the lawyer. Therefore, a lawyer-client relationship shall arise when the client consciously, voluntarily and in good faith vests a lawyer with his or her confidence for the purpose of legal advice or representation, which shall include both court and non-court legal services, and the lawyer agrees to render such services. (n) (Canon III – Fidelity).

A lawyer shall not use confidential information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives written informed consent, or as permitted or required by law or this Code. (Canon III – Fidelity).

The information relating to representation of a client is protected as required by the rule on privileged communication.

A lawyer cannot be examined as to any communication made by the client to him.

In the course of lawyer-client relationship, there are information to be known by the lawyer from his or her client and vice-versa. By reason of said relationship, a lawyer cannot be examined as to any communication made by the client to him or her, or his/her advice given thereon. In this privileged communication, attorney’s secretary, stenographer or clerk working with that lawyer or law office are also covered by the privileged communication. Hence, they cannot be examined without the consent of the client. The purpose of the Rule is to encourage the client to give all his trust and confidence to the lawyer. Communication is the best proven tool in arriving at the truth and ultimately justice.

An attorney is more than a mere agent or servant, because he possesses special powers of trust and confidence reposed on him by his client. A lawyer is also as independent as the judge of the court, thus his powers are entirely different from and superior to those of an ordinary agent. Moreover, an attorney also occupies what may be considered as a “quasi-judicial office” since he is in fact an officer of the Court and exercises his judgment in the choice of courses of action to be taken favorable to his client. Thus, in the creation of lawyer-client relationship, there are rules, ethical conduct and duties that breathe life into it, among those, the fiduciary duty to his client which is of a very delicate, exacting and confidential character, requiring a very high degree of fidelity and good faith, that is required by reason of necessity and public interest. (Cited in the case of Teodoro R. Regala vs. The Honorable Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 105938, September 20, 1996, En Banc). 

Exceptions to lawyer-client privileged communication.

A lawyer can be examined even without the consent of his or her client in the following cases:

Furtherance of crime or fraud. A lawyer coached the client to commit the fraud or crime swiftly and discreetly instead of prohibiting his/her client not to pursue the client’s evil plan. Besides, the attorney-client privileged communication does not apply if the confidence received by an attorney is for the purpose of advancing a criminal or fraudulent purpose.” (Gregorio R. Castillo vs. Sandiganbayan and the Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 138231, February 21, 2002).

Claimants through same deceased client. – A lawyer may be compelled to examine if there is a claim against his deceased client. The claim will focus only on the issue/s of testate, intestate or during the lifetime (inter vivos) transaction of his client if the lawyer has the knowledge on those. This is now allowed in the interest of justice. Provided however the deceased client’s name should not be besmirched if the lawyer will be examined. The Dead Man’s Statute should be observed. The “Dead Man’s Statute” provides that if one party to the alleged transaction is precluded from testifying by death, insanity, or other mental disabilities, the surviving party is not entitled to the undue advantage of giving his own uncontradicted and unexplained account of the transaction. (Tan vs. Court of Appeals, 295 SCRA 247 (1998), p. 258, the author supplied emphasis on the word “own”).

Breach of duty by lawyer or client. A lawyer may reveal a communication received by him or her from the client if their relationship, i.e. lawyer-client relationship is broke. To illustrate: If a lawyer is charged with a disbarment case by his or her client, hence there is an issue of breach of duty, a lawyer can be examined or can reveal the communication that took place between the lawyer and the client. There is no privileged communication to be respected because there was the breach of duty.

Document attested by the lawyer. A lawyer can be examined even without the consent of his or her client with respect to the documents attested by the lawyer such as the documents certified, authenticated, confirmed, validated or notarized by the lawyer.

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