In addition to the right of the attorney-client and the responsibility of confidentiality, all legal-client relationships formally begin with a letter of engagement and a fee agreement.
The letter of engagement and the contract are a means of clarifying other terms of your working arrangement with a lawyer, such as fees, law firms’ practices, protection of records, etc., but they almost always set out the responsibility of confidentiality as a means of covering all of their bases and keeping contact transparent.
As an example, a typical letter of engagement to a lawyer can contain anything like the following:
Note of Confidentiality in the regular letter of engagement of the Solicitor
Other engagement letters may, or at least make reference to, a particular list of the rule number under their jurisdiction.
Either way, the letter of engagement does not guarantee your secrecy, because you already had to proceed with it.
It is, however, a means by which the Attorney recognizes his duty of confidentiality and agrees, in writing, to abide by the codes of conduct and privileges of the Attorney-Customer.
And if you’ve spoken to the attorney and didn’t formally engage them in a letter of engagement to the attorney, don’t worry.
It should make it easier for you to know that even without a letter of engagement and a signed client-law contract, you will have complete confidentiality even though you reveal details as a prospective client.
In other terms, if you call your local small business lawyer today to give them a few details about your future project to see if they suit your needs well, they do have a duty of confidentiality about something they have shared with you, since you have revealed the information confidentially to a professional who has a duty to do so.
Your trade secrets are as secure as they would be if you signed an official agreement with them.
So, by all means, shop for the perfect attroney, if you don’t have one. Attorneys remain bound by their ethical code of ethics and must handle your sensitive details as such until you tell them otherwise.
While a non-disclosure agreement may not be appropriate, some lawyers are still willing to sign these agreements for their clients, as long as they are well-designed and do not impede the attorney’s ability to represent you.
In fact, your confidential information is most likely to be highly protected with a lawyer, but a well-constructed non-disclosure agreement will actually provide you with remedies for the rare possibility that your attorney will reveal your confidential information in a detrimental manner.
For this reason, some lawyers are actually very happy to sign an agreement with you, if it makes you feel more secure.
On the other hand, many lawyers simply refuse to acknowledge that signing a non-disclosure will theoretically limit their right to zealously represent you, as the agreement, depending on the language, might have a wording that limits their conduct in a manner that is potentially detrimental to you.
Perhaps that contradiction doesn’t benefit you, but it’s good to know that some lawyers are not in agreement on the subject of signing these agreements with their clients.
The bottom line is that lawyers are bound by a variety of laws and standards of conduct that automatically position them at a higher standard of duty and care – as is the case for other licensed professionals.
It is extremely doubtful that a non-disclosure arrangement is appropriate for your work relationship with a lawyer.
If you insist on that, though, there are lawyers out there who are willing to enter into such agreement.