Law Firm Internal Investigations and the Attorney-Client Privilege

Maintaining Confidentiality and Avoiding Conflicts of Interest

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

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Conducted on Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Course Materials


Law firms, like any other business in this country, face lawsuits and claims of wrongdoing by clients, as well as by employees and others on a regular basis.

Like other companies, law firms must conduct internal investigations into such claims and deal with issues of attorney–client and work product privilege. However, law firms must also deal with unique privilege and legal ethics issues.

Every law firm must prepare for the possibility of being a defendant in litigation. Every firm should have a well-structured internal review program, including proactive measures to ensure that investigations protect both client and attorney confidentiality.

Listen as our authoritative panel of legal specialists examines the attorney–client privilege in the context of law firm internal investigations, potential conflicts of interest, and attorney ethical issues that may arise.



  1. Attorney–client privilege
    1. Scope of privilege
    2. Intra-firm dissemination of privileged information
    3. Discovery
    4. Current client or fiduciary exception
    5. Court and state bar treatment
  2. Ethical considerations
    1. Conflicts of interest
    2. Fiduciary duty to client
  3. Best practices to maintain confidentiality
    1. Appoint regular general counsel or ethics counsel
    2. Investigate or act on professional liability or responsibility issues when they arise
    3. Firm counsel treat investigation as client matter
    4. Firm counsel must safeguard attorney–client privilege and work product doctrine
    5. No discussion of investigation with aggrieved client
    6. Consider withdrawal from client representation (at least on particular matter)


The panel will review these and other key questions:

  • What protections are available to law firms as they conduct internal investigations?
  • What are the common challenges asserted by aggrieved clients to access information gathered in the firm's internal investigation?
  • What ethical issues should law firms consider when undertaking an internal investigation?
  • What steps should firms take to protect the confidentiality of the information resulting from the internal investigation?


John K. Villa
John K. Villa

Williams & Connolly

He focuses his practice in legal malpractice defense and corporate and financial services-related litigation (civil...  |  Read More

William M. Sullivan, Jr.
William M. Sullivan, Jr.
Winston & Strawn

He concentrates in corporate internal investigations, trial practice, and white-collar criminal defense, as well as...  |  Read More

Nancy J. Marshall
Nancy J. Marshall
Deutsch Kerrigan & Stiles

She heads the firm's Professional Liability Section and concentrates on defending legal malpractice claims. She...  |  Read More

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