Bad Legal Advice from Eli Stone

I’m not a lawyer; I don’t even play one on TV. And I’m fine with TV shows taking a lot of liberty with the truth, but primarily in areas where people aren’t going to make costly mistakes. I’m not worried about somebody saying “Well Sally, we can’t figure out what’s wrong with her, let’s inject her with cancer and see what happens. That’s what House would do” or “this vehicle isn’t going fast enough, we’ll be lateĀ  — quick, reverse polarity on the anti-matter inducer, I’ve seen Scotty do that a hundred times.” And my San Francisco friends tell me that TVshows (like Eli Stone) constantly fudge geography issues in San Francisco in ways that they’d never do with New York, but I can live with that too.

But I was bothered by an exchange went something like this:

  • “They have internal memos proving our case, they need to disclose them”
  • “No, their lawyer was copied on these memos, so the memos are privileged.”

This was accepted as the law. I know that it’s widely believed. And again, I’m not a lawyer. But some of my smartest friends and colleagues are, and they’ve assured me that this is simply untrue. If you ask your lawyer his legal opinion, then the exchange is privileged. If you merely copy your lawyer while discussing a business issue with a colleague, no privilege. In fact, if your corporate lawyer is also a trusted business strategist, and your exchange with her is on business strategy, it’s not privileged.

The moral of the story: make sure to only get your legal and medical advice from trusted, reliable television shows like the Simpsons. (Whom I BTW also trust with theological issues — they once portrayed God as having five fingers, one more than Bart does — whoa!, deep).