When employees use business systems to communicate with their lawyers

11 Jun

I just read Universal Sales, Limited v. Edinburgh Assurance Co. Ltd., a November 2008 judgement of the Federal Court that deals with inadvertent disclosure of solicitor-client communications.

The case is about a transcript of a telephone conversation containing solicitor-client communications that was inadvertently produced to an opponent in litigation. The judgement has a nice summary of the law on inadvertent disclosure of privileged information:

As the Plaintiffs point out, the mere physical loss of custody of a privileged document does not automatically end privilege, especially in the context of modern litigation where large quantities of documents, such as the electronic production of a CD in this case, are exchanged between counsel and accidental disclosure is bound to occur from time to time.

In cases of inadvertent disclosure, the waiver question turns more on the conduct of the privilege holder after it discovers its disclosure and also on any special prejudice that might be faced by the recipient (e.g. by bona fide reliance that does not conflict with any professional duty to immediately seal the communication).

I found Universal Sales in preparing to make some comments on whether employees waive privilege when they communicate with their solicitors on employer e-mail systems at today’s Osgoode PDP program on electronic evidence. The question is whether the waiver is intentional as opposed to inadvertent and will turn on the facts. The most authoritative Canadian case on the issue is the Daniel Potter decision by Mr. Justice Scanlan of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Scanlan J. found that the CEO of a company had not waived privilege by sending solicitor-client communications through his employer’s computer system. He did consider argument based on the employee privacy cases (see my last post), but held that solicitor-client communications deserve special treatment. He also noted, however, that Mr. Potter was CEO and had “day to day executive control over policies which may have threated his expectation of privacy.”

My view on the issue is (1) that Daniel Potter does not close the debate, (2) that Canadian courts will demand very special facts to find waiver because they are staunch defenders of solicitor-client privilege and (3) the occasions when it makes tactical sense to engage in a dispute over the waiver issue are likely rare.

Looking forward to speaking to this later this morning. I’ll live blog the event at #oseev and @michaluk_live.

See ya!

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One Response to “When employees use business systems to communicate with their lawyers”

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  1. Case Report – Raitt “lost recorder” award published « All About Information - June 13, 2009

    […] than privilege and trade secret protection. I recently blogged about the Daniel Potter case here. It does the same thing. Two, whether the property torts can be used to re-gain control of […]

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