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Michael J. Hutter

In today’s increasingly complex legal environment, attorneys may need the assistance of professionals, e.g., scientists, engineers, physicians, accountants, investment bankers and even, public relations specialists to effectively and competently advise their clients. Working with these professionals will often require the disclosure to them of attorney-client privileged information. Does such disclosure result in the loss of privilege protection? In Gottwald v. Sebert, 58 Misc.3d 625 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 2017), this issue was addressed in the context of the disclosure of privileged information to a public relations firm retained by defendant’s attorney in pending litigation. In a thoughtful decision, Supreme Court judge Shirley Werner Kornreich held that upon the facts before the court the disclosure of certain documents prepared by defendant’s attorney and disclosed to the firm were not protected by the privilege because the disclosure was made purely for public relations purposes and not for the purpose of providing or obtaining legal advice. Notably, while Judge Kornreich ruled against the attorney, she did not hold that disclosures to a public relations firm will always result in a loss of privilege protection. Rather, the privilege may still be applicable in a given case.

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