Increasingly frequent cross-border investigations have raised difficult questions of privilege and work product protection over the last few years. In the United States, attorney-client privilege protects confidential communications between attorneys and clients for the purpose of seeking or rendering legal advice, and the work product doctrine protects documents or materials prepared in anticipation of litigation from discovery. Not every country offers those protections. Although many other countries recognize some form of privilege or confidentiality between attorneys and clients, that privilege or confidentiality may be construed to cover a narrower subset of communications. International businesses therefore must recognize that communications deemed privileged in the United States may not be considered privileged in other countries. For example, in France in-house counsel are not considered members of a “bar” and professional secrecy typically does not protect communications between a company’s management and its in-house counsel. In Germany, privilege may apply to communications with in-house counsel in civil proceedings but not in criminal proceedings. Moreover, in those jurisdictions in which privilege is recognized, the circumstances under which privilege is waived also differ across jurisdictions. Japanese law, for example, provides no baseline attorney-client privilege although specific rules such as those issued by the Japan Fair Trade Commission may protect such communications when related to the particular subject matter. English law, on the other hand, is more similar to US attorney-client privilege but does not extend as safely to internal investigation notes. Under English law, documents generated during an internal investigation will only be privileged if the communication is with the narrowly defined “client,” the documents betray the trend of legal advice or litigation (which can include criminal proceedings) was in reasonable contemplation. Comparing France, Germany, Japan, England, and the United States exemplifies how decisions to disclose attorney-client communications to third parties may have different consequences in different jurisdictions, even if the disclosure may not effect waiver in the jurisdiction in which it is made. When these differences in privilege law are present, the question must be addressed: which privilege rule controls? The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Mangouras v. Squire Patton Boggs may offer new insight into that question.
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