Here's a hypothetical: you call an attorney. The attorney has a friend or relative of yours as a client. The attorney is not at the office. You leave a message with her assistant. You have some information about this friend or relative who is her client, but it's important to please keep everything confidential. So, for personal reasons, don't tell the friend or relative that you called her lawyer, please. You even have the assistant read the message back to you so there's no mistake.
Sounds easy enough.
However, before you actually have a chance to talk to the attorney, she calls you back and leaves a voicemail, saying that attorney-client relationships [even hypothetical ones] are privileged, so she can't share information about the client with you.
But, wait a minute, Matlock-breath, I'm not asking YOU the [hypothetical] lawyer to tell ME anything. I want to tell YOU something that YOU need to know about the case.
Perhaps there was just a misunderstanding, since I didn't want to GET any information from the [hypothetical] attorney, I just wanted to GIVE her some information that might be relevant, even helpful.
Meanwhile, even though I still hadn't had a chance to talk to the [hypothetical] attorney, she had an occasion to see my friend or relative at her office about the case. And the first thing the [hypothetical] attorney said to her client was, "Oh, Mrs. Linklater called and wanted to talk to me about you."
How do I know this happened? Because the friend or relative called me up and asked, "Did you call my [hypothetical] attorney today?" Fortunately, I could say no, because I had made the call two days before. But YES I did call the [hypothetical] attorney and I can't believe she told the client after I expressly requested, PLEASE DON'T TELL HER I CALLED. Not only that, I hadn't told the [asshead hypothetical] attorney ANYTHING, since I still hadn't talked to her.
Holy cripes, what was the [hypothetical] attorney thinking? Telling the client I called? Would you be angry? Enraged beyond belief? Or slapping your forehead and saying WTF?
This actually happened to me several weeks ago. Only it wasn't an attorney. It was another profession with client confidentiality protections. Afterward, I called this trained professional's office and said, "Tell that dingbat to never call me back. I have information she needs, but she is on her own."
Next thing I know, she's called me back to leave yet another voicemail and reiterate the same client confidentiality issues. I can't have any information from her about the client. She doesn't get that I DON'T WANT ANY.
Plus she doesn't seem to care that I have important information she might need.
Then as fate would have it, I had an unexpected chance to meet with this person -- in person -- the other day. She began by repeating her mantra about confidentiality. I said that was between her and her client. I didn't want any information. I had information she needed.
Mostly I told her I was very angry because she had told her client I called, after I had specifically left a message that requested her not to say anything.
But, she claimed, she had to get permission from the client to talk to me at all. "Really?" I replied. Then she should have called me back to say she had to ask the client for permission to talk to me AT ALL, and I would have said, then skip it. Or, "That's insane." Because it is.
Since when is outside information from a third party included in any confidentiality agreement between a lawyer [even a hypothetical one] and her client? Basically, if I had information that would have exonerated the client of a crime, or saved her life, this [hypothetical] lawyer was saying I couldn't tell her anything because of the rules that govern confidentiality.
Have I said WTF?
Clearly I had just stepped into the Twilight Zone. So, naturally, this is how the conversation ended with the hypothetical lawyer, who is a real person:
Here is exactrly what I said to her, verbatim: "You. Are. An. Idiot!" I left out "f**king."