Legal Privilege in the EU & the US: What’s new?

Webinar organised by Concurrences, in partnership with McDermott Will & Emery, with Jacques Buhart (Partner, McDermott Will & Emery), Martin D’Halluin (SVP, Global Competition Law & Policy Counsel, News Corp), Stéphanie Fougou (Secretary-General, Ingenico), Clara Ingen-Housz (Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer, Group Legal Counsel (Antitrust, Anticorruption, Economic sanctions), Saint-Gobain), Anthony Mariano (Trial Attorney, Washington Criminal II Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice) and Javier Ramírez Iglesias (Chair of Advocacy, Association of Corporate Counsel Europe).

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Jacques Buhart acted as moderator of the discussion. The issue of legal privilege is an illustration of the conflict between the common law system and the civil law system. The debate regarding legal privilege has its origins in the fundamental principle that the client has a right to seek independent legal advice. The critical criterion discussed was that pertaining to the independence of legal counsel. On the one hand, there is the concept of legal professional privilege (LPP) in the common law system. LPP is the main attribute of lawyers in common law jurisdictions. LPP belongs to the client and not to the lawyer, which means that it can only be waived by the client. On the other hand, in civil law systems, members of the bar are usually under an obligation not to disclose confidential information received from their clients (“secret professionnel”). Unlike LPP, this obligation is binding on the lawyer. One of the main issues that has arisen in Europe is whether a corporate legal counsel who is a member of the bar, but who is also bound to the company by an employment relationship, is entitled to legal privilege. This issue was first raised at the European Court of Justice in AM&S Europe Ltd v. Commission in 1982 where, for the first time, the Court of Justice recognized the right of defence of each client. At the same time, it ruled that a lawyer employed by a company is in a situation of economic dependence. This means that he/she is not entitled to LPP, even though he or she is a member of the bar. This was later confirmed by the General Court in 2007 and by the Court of Justice in 2010 in the Akzo case. In the period between those two cases, some EU member states amended their legislation and modified the status of corporate counsel. This is what happened in Spain.

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