What is Attorney-Client Privilege and How Does It Work?

If you have been charged with a crime

As the client of a lawyer, you have a certain privilege to speak freely. This is known as “attorney-client privilege.” It means that information shared between a criminal defense lawyer and his or her clients is confidential and cannot legally be disclosed by the attorney, nor can a court require the attorney to divulge the information.

First, let us explain the difference between a lawyer and an attorney. Like others, we use the terms interchangeably, but technically there’s a difference. A lawyer is a person who has a law degree. An attorney is a lawyer who has passed the bar in their jurisdiction and is licensed to represent people in legal matters.

Patrick K. Cafferty of Cafferty & Scheidegger has been a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin since 1994. He represents people charged with state and federal criminal offenses throughout Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.

Clients and prospective clients who speak with the attorneys at Cafferty & Scheidegger enjoy the attorney-client privilege.

Wisconsin state statutes and case law, as well as the Wisconsin attorney’s oath and rules of professional conduct all confirm attorney-client privilege.

In general, communication between a client (criminal defendant or otherwise) and his or her attorney is to remain confidential unless the client agrees that it can be revealed. This includes spoken and written communication. It also requires that no one else be made privy to the information, not just law enforcement or the courts, but other lawyers or attorneys who may be consulted, the press, family, friends, etc.

As the Wisconsin State Bar explained in its official publication, Wisconsin Lawyer, in December 2004, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in Harold Sampson Children’s Trust v. Linda Gale Sampson 1979 Trust “established with certainty that the client owns and controls the attorney-client privilege.”

Attorney-client privilege enables a lawyer to defend a client to the best of his or her abilities. To do so, the attorney must have a full understanding of the case, which is only possible if the client is honest and open about what happened.

The fact that communications between a defendant and his or her attorney are confidential/privileged, allows the openness and honesty required to fully defend the client’s rights. When a defense attorney has all of the facts, he or she can plan the best defense for their client to work toward the best available outcome of the case.

There are a few limitations on attorney-client privilege. An attorney may divulge communications if:

  • The attorney’s services were retained to aid the commission of a crime or fraud
  • The information communicated is relevant to the case of a co-defendant represented by the same attorney
  • It is relevant to a dispute over a will in which multiple individuals claim to represent the deceased
  • A former client makes a claim against the attorney
  • The attorney becomes a witness, such as to testify as to the authenticity of a document.

If you have been charged with a crime, you need to obtain legal advice as soon as possible and should do so with total confidence that what you say to a lawyer will remain confidential. If you need the help of an experienced, ethical criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin, contact Cafferty & Scheidegger today.

Why Choose Cafferty


Free Consultation

From our offices in Racine and Kenosha Wisconsin, the criminal defense lawyers at Cafferty & Scheidegger defend the rights of people charged with state and federal criminal offenses throughout Southeastern Wisconsin (Racine, Kenosha, Walworth). If you or a loved one is charged with a crime, contact us today to arrange a free initial consultation with an experienced Racine federal criminal defense attorney right away. For urgent matters, you are welcome to call or text us 24 hours a day at ‪(262) 632-5000.


We Defend You

The attorneys at Cafferty & Scheidegger have excellent knowledge of the state and federal court system throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. They are aggressive trial lawyers that are recognized for integrity and hard work. Our law firm’s strength lies in our exceptional pre-trial investigation and case preparation. We come to the prosecutor’s office prepared with the facts and ready to help you get the best possible outcome for your charges. Our priority is always to keep you out of jail and avoid a conviction on your record, whenever possible.

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Proven Experience

The dedication of the team at Cafferty & Scheidegger to client service and their record of success has earned them listings as Wisconsin Super Lawyer® from 2008 through 2022. In addition, their reputation for high standards has earned them an AV Distinguished rating by Martindale-Hubbell. Cafferty & Scheidegger is backed by more than 28 years of trial skills and courtroom experience.

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