California Law: Attorney Billing Records Protected By Attorney-Client Privilege

Allison Martin Rhodes is a Partner in Holland & Knight's Portland office Craig Weinstein is an Associate in Holland & Knight's Los Angeles office

A Closer Look at County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court (ACLU of Southern California)


This is the first clear holding in California that protects invoices from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege because attorney invoices are confidential communications between attorney and client. California attorney-client privilege protects the transmission of confidential communications between attorney and client whether or not a particular communication contains legal opinion or advice to the client. In an important new decision, the California Court of Appeal held in County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court (ACLU of Southern California)1 that attorney invoices are confidential in nature and are therefore protected from disclosure. Prior to this opinion, courts had taken inconsistent views on whether a lawyer's bill is a privileged communication that should not be produced at all or should be subject to permissible redaction. In reversing the trial court's ruling, the opinion takes a broad view of the privilege and notes that the defendant was able to establish the preliminary facts necessary to support application of the attorney-client privilege to its invoices with its attorneys under California law - i.e., that the communication was made in the course of an attorney-client relationship. In reaching this conclusion, the court interpreted and applied California Evidence Code section 952.

Public Policy and Legislative Intent Focused on Safeguarding Attorney-Client Confidentiality

The court relied heavily on the public policy and legislative intent of safeguarding the confidential relationships between clients and their attorneys so as to promote full and open discussion of the facts and tactics surrounding legal matters. Because the defendant-client met its burden to show that the records were confidential communications between it and its attorney, the records were therefore protected from disclosure.

The plaintiff also argued that under Evidence Code section 952, the attorney-client privilege only extends to communications containing legal advice or opinion. The court rejected this argument...

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