Deck the Halls with Boughs of Kovel 1

Over the last quarter of 2018 and leading into this holiday season, several courts have issued decisions applying the Kovel Doctrine in a variety of settings. So, this seems like an excellent time to review the doctrine, explain it, and see how courts have recently applied it, including in settings involving adult children, public-relations consultants, investment bankers, and accountants.

What is the Kovel Doctrine?

Louis Kovel was, as we Southerners would say, a revenuer. He worked as an IRS agent but, in 1943, became employed as an accountant with Kamerman & Kamerman, a NY tax law firm. When a federal grand jury began investigating a man named Hopps for tax improprieties, Hopps sought counsel from the Kamerman firm, and specifically met with the non-lawyer, former revenuer Kovel.

Kovel was later subpoenaed to provide grand-jury testimony against Hopps, but refused to answer any questions on grounds that the attorney–client privilege protected his discussions  with Hopps.  Remember, there is no federal accountant–client privilege, so the attorney–client privilege was his only avenue for relief.

The district judge bluntly rejected Kovel’s privilege argument, omnisciently stating:

  “You don’t have to give me authority on [the privilege]”;

  “I’m not going to listen” to Kovel; and

   “There is no privilege to this man at all.”

And when Kovel refused the judge’s order to disclose his communications with Hopps, the judge held him in criminal contempt and sentenced him to a year in jail.

Poor Kovel.

The judge let Kovel out of jail after 4 days so that he could appeal to the Second Circuit, and so he did. Legendary judge Henry J. Friendly authored what became the seminal decision on More…

No Room in the Inn: Marriott’s Legal Dep’t Loses Privilege over Strategic Plan Memo 1

The age-old privilege issue of an in-house lawyer providing business or legal advice has once again reared its head. Marriott’s legal department provided analysis and advice into the company’s strategic-plan memorandum, but a federal court ruled that the privilege did not protect the lawyer-drafted sections from discovery. RCHFU, LLC v. Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp., 2018 WL 3055774 (D. Colo. May 23, 2018). You may read the decision here.

This case raises issues of legal standards and practical application, so let’s explore it.

Strategic Plan Memorandum

Marriott Vacation Club’s COO and its Senior VP sent a memorandum, titled “Ritz-Carlton Destination Club Proposed Strategic Plan,” to the Corporate Growth Committee. On the surface, this document seems purely business related with no privilege protection. While its confidentiality remained intact, the memo contains no privilege-related notices or alerts, and no lawyer appears to have written or received it.

But let’s take a closer look.

Business Advice or Legal Advice?

Marriott’s Vice-President and Senior Counsel submitted a sworn declaration, available here, stating that More…

The Privilege When Your Attorney is the Best (or Only) 30(b)(6) Witness

Upon receipt of a notice to depose your corporate client’s representative(s) under FRCP 30(b)(6) or state-rule equivalent, the entity’s lawyers scramble to identify the right employees or agents to handle the job. From time-to-time, the identification process boomerangs to the entity’s lawyer because he or she is the only remaining corporate representative with the requisite knowledge.

So, what to do? Put the lawyer up for deposition? Assert a blanket objection on attorney–client privilege grounds? Object question-by-question?

One court faced with a motion to quash a 30(b)(6) notice held that the privilege does not automatically protect the corporate attorney’s knowledge from discovery, stating that a blanket objection produces “an unworkable circumstance.” But the court offered the corporate party some relief, which serves as guidance for the rest of us. United States v. Stabl Inc., 2018 WL 3758204 (D. Neb. Aug. 8, 2018). You may read the decision here.

“The first thing we do, let’s [depose] all the lawyers.” More…