Are Free Consultations Really Confidential in Illinois?

Choosing an attorney is an important matter, especially when you are involved in the criminal justice system.  Many attorneys claim to offer free consultations in order to solicit business and take on your case.  Because this meeting may require you to divulge sensitive information, you may be concerned about the rules concerning confidentiality.

Rest assured that even though this is an initial consultation, the information you share with an attorney is confidential.  This remains true even if the attorney doesn’t take your case or you choose not to hire that attorney.  This means that any information exchanged in that meeting cannot be disclosed to anyone outside the law office without your consent.

This isn’t just an unspoken rule among lawyers, it is an actual rule established by the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.  Rule 1.18 of the Rules states:

a)    A person who discusses with a lawyer the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter is a prospective client.

b)    Even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, a lawyer who has had discussions with a prospective client shall not use or reveal information learned in the consultation, except as Rule 1.9 would permit with respect to information of a former client.

The comments associated with these professional rules note that prospective client can not only disclose confidential information to an attorney, but can provide that attorney with documents or other property associated with the case in the attorney’s custody.  The rationale for affording prospective clients the same level of confidentiality is that typically consultations are limited interactions and both will determine the scope of the relationship going forward.

There is a caveat, however, that not everyone who discloses confidential information to an attorney is entitled to protection of this rule.  The exception being that when a prospective client makes a unilateral disclosure to an attorney with no expectation that there will be an attorney-client relationship formed, is not entitled to the communications remaining confidential.  Basically, you must reveal the confidential information in the course of seeking or obtaining an attorney’s services and in a legal capacity in order for the protection to be triggered.

Again, choosing an attorney to assist you in a trying time is a very important decision and will usually require you to divulge information you don’t want anyone else to know.  Be confident that your communication will remain confidential and feel free to verify such with your prospective attorney.  For more information, contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney for more assistance.

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