A lawyer for a company has a duty under company law to protect the company’s confidential information. As a lawyer, he or she has a professional ethical obligation to preserve the confidentiality of materials submitted to the lawyer in order to secure or provide legal advice.
But what happens if the lawyer learns information that indicates the client has broken or is breaking US criminal law? Is there a duty to blow the whistle outside the company? To whom is that duty owed? Which controls, state legal ethics rules or federal law?
“Trial to Focus on In-House Lawyers,” The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2017 B2. A company’s general counsel is fired. The company says he was fired because he messed up security filings and failed to detect bribery that led to $55 million in fines. He says he was fired because he blew the whistle on the company’s “possible” bribery in China. The judge ruled in December that the lawyer can use privileged information to support his claim.
Will this case eviscerate attorney-client privilege or force attorneys to become unwilling participants in criminal activity?