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81-F-20 - Investigative Subpoena





An inquiry has been made concerning the propriety of an attorney disclosing information protected by the attorney-client privilege or client secrets in response to an investigative subpoena of the T.B.I.

The law firm, in representing a particular client, has made deposits and disbursement through its trust account in connection with real estate transactions of the client. The trust account used is an escrow account which involves transactions for all of the law firm's clients. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued an investigative subpoena to the bank which holds the law firm's general trust account and calls for the production of all records pertaining to the account for a period of more than a year. The particular client, who is the apparent target or subject of the investigation, has consented to the release of the information. However, the T.B.I. is requesting access to information pertaining to the entire account involving clients who have neither received notice of the investigation nor given consent for release of information.

The language and opinion cited in ABA Opinion 250 (1943) is adopted herein as follows:

The purposes and necessities of the relation between a client and his attorney require, in many cases, on the part of the client, the fullest and freest disclosures to the attorney of the client's objects, motives and acts. This disclosure is made in the strictest confidence, relying upon the attorney's honor and fidelity. To permit the attorney to reveal to others what is so disclosed would be not only a gross violation of a sacred trust upon his part, but it would utterly destroy and prevent the usefulness and benefits to be derived from professional assistance. Based upon considerations of public policy, therefore, the law wisely declares that all confidential communications and disclosures, made by a client to his legal adviser for the purpose of obtaining his professional aid or advice, shall be strictly privileged; -- that the attorney shall not be permitted, without the consent of his client -- and much less will be compelled -- to reveal or disclose communications made to him under such circumstances.

The attorney is ethically obligated to resist disclosing confidential information relating to clients not involved in the T.B.I. investigation, and to invoke all available legal remedies against such disclosure.

This 3rd day of September, 1981.


Randall Burcham
W. H. Lassiter
George Morrow