Court Finds In-House Counsel Privilege “More Difficult,” and Explains Why

The USDC for the ED Louisiana issued a short but instructive privilege opinion for in-house lawyers.  The court found the in-house counsel privilege “more difficult” to apply, ruled that an executive’s cc’ing in-house counsel is insufficient, imposed a “primary purpose” standard, and generally rejected the privilege because there was “no indication” that the employee emailing the in-house lawyer was seeking legal advice.  Texas Brine Co. v. Dow Chemical Co., 2017 WL 5625812 (ED La. Nov. 21, 2017).  You may read the opinion here.

More Difficult

Dow Chemical challenged the privileged nature of several emails involving Texas Brine’s in-house lawyers, and the court recognized the difficulty in assessing in-house lawyers’ privilege assertions.  The court found it “more difficult” to define the privilege’s scope because in-house counsel “serve multiple roles,” including non-legal ones, and have an “increased level of participation in the day-to-day operations of the corporation.”

The Primary Purpose or A Primary Purpose?

Because of a perceived increase in corporate counsel’s business roles, the court required the Texas Brine lawyers to prove that “the primary purpose” of the emails was to secure legal advice.  The court explained this “test” as whether the in-house lawyer participated in the communication “primarily for the purpose of rendering legal advice.”  Merely identifying a legal issue in the email is insufficient—the “lawyer’s role as a lawyer must be primary to her participation.” More…

Court Blocks Deposition of In-House Litigation Support Specialist

In a FCRA putative class action, a Washington federal court quashed a deposition notice for a defendant–company’s litigation support specialist based in the legal department. The court treated her as the General Counsel’s agent for privilege purposes, and used the Shelton doctrine to preclude her deposition testimony.  Broyles v. Convergent Outsourcing, Inc., 2017 WL 2256773 (W.D. Wash. May 23, 2017).  You may read the decision here.

What is a Litigation Support Specialist?

I suppose the duties of a Litigation Support Specialist vary from company to company, but likely include general paralegal duties and/or e-discovery duties. In Broyles, Alisia Stephens worked as a Litigation Support Specialist for Convergent Outsourcing, a collection agency, under the direction of Convergent’s General Counsel.  Her duties included reviewing complaints, investigating the complaint’s allegations, and engaging in settlement-related communications with plaintiffs’ counsel before retaining outside counsel.

After Plaintiff Broyles filed her complaint, Stephens communicated with Broyles’ counsel regarding a potential settlement.  She also submitted a sworn declaration discussing Broyles’ prior bankruptcy filings and stating, simply, that Convergent’s collection inquiries “were permissible under the FCRA.”  Ok, if you say so.

The Deposition More…

Privilege Covers In-House Lawyer’s (and Non-Lawyers’) Review of Employee-Termination Decision

In an employment-discrimination case, the SDNY ruled that the attorney–client privilege precluded depositions of a company’s Termination Review Committee members, which included an in-house lawyer.  The privilege applied even though the Committee included two non-lawyers.  Fletcher v. ABM Building Value, 2017 WL 1536059 (SDNY Apr. 18, 2017).  You may read the decision here.

Background

ABM Building Value maintains a committee—ominously named the “Termination Review Committee”—that evaluates managers’ employee-termination decisions before the company carries out a termination. Following its review, the TRC, composed of one in-house lawyer and two non-lawyers, provides the company with advice concerning any risks associated with the termination. More…