A three-way circuit split has long plagued the realm of attorney-client privilege on how to treat communications that implicate both legal and non-legal concerns (known as “dual-purpose communications”). Namely, if a lawyer communicates with their client, simultaneously providing legal advice and business advice, is the entire communication protected by the attorney-client privilege? How substantial must the legal advice be for the communication to be privileged? The Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to resolve this split, but in a strange turn of events, dismissed the previously granted writ of certiorari as improvidently granted two weeks after hearing oral argument. Before delving into the oral argument and subsequent dismissal by the Supreme Court, it is worth reviewing a brief history of the existing circuit split.
Julia Ansanelli is an associate in the Litigation Department and a member of the firm’s White Collar Defense & Investigations, Securities Litigation, and Asset Management Litigation Practice Groups. She has worked extensively defending clients facing criminal and regulatory investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission. She is also a member of the litigation team that represents the Financial Oversight and Management Board in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy proceedings. Julia has experience with various stages of complex commercial litigation, both in federal and state courts.
Julia maintains an active pro bono practice, with an emphasis on immigration law, and in particular, special immigrant juvenile status. In recognition of her pro bono efforts, Julia received a Proskauer Golden Gavel award in 2018 in connection with an amicus brief she helped prepare in support of a class of thousands of immigrant youth that had been denied special immigrant juvenile status in New York based on a then-new USCIS policy. The class of immigrant youth were ultimately successful when the Southern District of New York judge agreed that the USCIS policy violated federal immigration law.
During law school, she served as Case Note Editor of the Touro Law Review, in which she published two case notes of her own, and Vice President of Touro's Latin American Law School Association. Julia also interned for the Honorable Magistrate Kathleen Tomlinson in the Eastern District of New York.
Julia is a frequent contributor to Proskauer’s Minding Your Business and Capital Commitment blogs. She has also been recognized as a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” from 2020-2023.
Back in May, we wrote about a pending motion before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in which the U.S. Department of Justice and several state attorneys general (“DOJ Plaintiffs”) sought to sanction Defendant Google and compel disclosure of all emails withheld for privilege that legal counsel received but never responded to (affectionately referred to as “silent attorney” emails). The DOJ Plaintiffs claimed the silent attorney emails constituted artificial requests for legal advice intended to conceal sensitive business communications from discovery. After the parties briefed the issues, the judge ordered that the parties identify cases in support of their positions on whether the judge had the power to issue sanctions for pre-litigation conduct, and further ordered Google to produce a random sample of 210 of the 21,000 “silent attorney” emails for the court’s in camera review.
If a request for legal advice goes unanswered, is it really a request for legal advice? According to the U.S. Department of Justice and several state attorneys general (“DOJ Plaintiffs”) in an antitrust action against Google, United States, et. al. v. Google, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the answer to this question should be “no,” at least where the unanswered request for legal advice is part of an internal company practice intended to conceal sensitive, non-privileged documents from discovery.
In early April 2020, the First Department affirmed the dismissal of a complaint by a Russian lawyer who had received an L.L.M. from Fordham University alleging “civil conspiracy” against Fordham and several American attorneys, reasoning that New York does not recognize a stand-alone claim of civil conspiracy.
Parties should think twice before posting potential evidence on social media, as the Plaintiff in Guarisco v. Boh Brothers Construction learned recently. The Eastern District of Louisiana imposed sanctions on Plaintiff for deliberately producing an altered photo, which Plaintiff had previously posted on social media in its unaltered form. Rather than relying on Rule 37(e), which it found was not applicable to the facts, the court exercised its inherent power to issue sanctions for such improper discovery tactics.
Last week, a federal judge in California denied the plaintiff’s motions to disqualify the defendant’s counsel, finding that the firm’s former representation of the plaintiff was not sufficiently recent, substantial, or substantively related to the firm’s current representation of the defendant to warrant disqualification.
The plaintiff, IPS Group, Inc., brought two related lawsuits against Duncan Solutions, Inc., for patent infringement — one in July 2015 and another in March 2017. In June 2017, the law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo P.C. (“Mintz”) joined the defense teams representing Duncan in both matters. IPS Group made two “virtually identical” motions in July to disqualify Mintz in each case, arguing that (1) IPS Group was a current client of Mintz, so concurrent representation of IPS Group and Duncan was a breach of the duty of loyalty, and alternatively, (2) IPS Group was a former client of Mintz, who had obtained confidential information from IPS Group material to Mintz’s current representation of Duncan.