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Attorney client privilege? Threats?

Cambridge, MA |
Filed under: Professional ethics

I am unfortunately representing myself in a matter because I cannot afford a lawyer right now. The opposing parties counsel sent me an email threatening to take legal action if I exercise my valid rights. He also copied a third party on this email, and that third party was my sister and NOT a party to the legal issues at hand. In my research of the professional conduct rules I see that it is a violation to threaten opposing counsel (with me Pro-se). I am also wondering if that counsel copying a non-party loses he and his client;s attorney-client privilege?

Attorney Answers 5


1. Without knowing what legal action the attorney is threatening to take, it is not possible to say whether what you describe as threats are improper. An attorney cannot threaten an opposing party with criminal prosecution, but there is nothing improper about saying to someone "if you do X, I'll proceed with a civil issue." Further, you are not "opposing counsel" -- you are a party to the litigation. That puts things in a muddier place. If you have any questions about the attorney's actions, bring them to the attention of the judge.

2. Attorney-client privilege concerns preservation of the client's secrets. A letter written to you by opposing counsel is not covered by that privilege, whether or not it is copied to someone else, unless the letter discloses a client's secrets without the consent of the client. It is up to the attorney's client, not you, to decide whether or not the privilege has been breached. The fact that the person being copied is not a party to the litigation isn't relevant to the issue you raised.

I suggest that you try to find the money to retain an attorney -- your questions indicate that you're struggling to understand a number of issues which could easily be address if you had an attorney who knew the facts.

E. Alexandra "Sasha" Golden is a Massachusetts lawyer. All answers are based on Massachusetts law. All answers are for educational purposes and no attorney-client relationship is formed by providing an answer to a question.

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Threats are illegal if the action is illegal. "I'll shoot you unless you pay me $5000" is an inappropriate threat. "I'll take you to court and win $5000 plus my attorney's fees" is an entirely appropriate threat.

You're not opposing counsel and you're clearly out of your league here. You should do your best to hire an attorney ASAP.

Do you want accurate, personalized, legal advice that you can rely on? You will have to hire an attorney, not ask on Avvo. I am not your attorney and am not creating an attorney-client relationship by this post. I am therefore giving only general advice. This advice may not apply to you or your situation; may not take account of all possibilities, and may not match the advice I would give to a client. DO NOT rely on this advice or any other advice on Avvo to make your legal decisions. If you want an answer to a legal question you should retain an attorney who is licensed in your state.

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What is the precise wording of the threat?

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You and opposing counsel do not have an attorney-client privilege. Anything that you say to the opposing counsel (or that he says to you) can be shared to anyone for any reason.

Additionally, threatening to take legal action is very different than the kind of threats that are forbidden by the ethical rules. Unless this "legal action" involved breaking your kneecaps, the opposing attorney was likely not violating the rules of professional conduct.

I agree with my colleagues that you appear to be out of your depth in this matter. Many attorneys offer sliding scale fees or payment options for clients.

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The answer to your question depends on, among other things, the precise nature of the threat. The attorney does not owe you any duty under the attorney-client privilege because he is not your attorney and you are not his client. Are you suggesting that your sister is his client? If so, that would certainly break the privilege with respect to that communication. It sounds like you really need an attorney and, if your case is worth it to you, hiring an attorney will payoff in the end.

Christopher Vaughn-Martel is a Massachusetts lawyer with the firm of Vaughn-Martel Law in Boston, Massachusetts. All answers are based on generalized Massachusetts law and the limited facts presented by the questioner. All answers are provided to the general public for educational purposes only and no attorney-client relationship is formed by providing an answer to a question. If you would like an attorney with Vaughn-Martel Law to review your specific situation and provide you with legal options or information specific to you, you may schedule a telephone or office by calling 617-357-4898 or visiting us at Our office charges $100.00 for a consultation, and applies your consultation fee to your first bill if the Firm is hired to perform further work.

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