Legal Resources & Information
Below is information that frequently is requested of OGC. If you can't find what you are looking for on this page, please review the frequently asked questions (FAQ) and the links to external legal resources that also are available in this section. If you still have questions after reviewing the information on this site, please do not hesitate to contact OGC.
What is the attorney-client privilege?
The attorney-client privilege is a legal, evidentiary privilege that protects confidential legal communications, written and oral, between an attorney and the attorney’s client. If the privilege applies, an attorney or client generally cannot be compelled to testify in a legal proceeding about their communications with each other or to produce documents reflecting their communications. The purpose of the privilege is to encourage open, honest and full communication between an attorney and client, to allow the attorney to act effectively on the client’s behalf.
When you speak with a university attorney, are you the attorney’s client?
The university’s attorneys represent St. Thomas, not any individual employee. Therefore, the university’s attorneys do not have an attorney-client privilege with individual St. Thomas employees in their personal capacities. However, communications between the university’s attorneys and St. Thomas employees acting within the scope of their St. Thomas employment may be protected by the attorney-client privilege, depending on the circumstances.
When does the privilege apply?
In order for the privilege to apply, the communication must be for the purpose of seeking, obtaining or providing legal assistance for the university. Merely copying a university attorney on a communication, or having an attorney participate in a meeting, will not automatically result in the communication being privileged. Additionally, the attorney must be engaged to represent St. Thomas; if the communication is with a licensed attorney who works for St. Thomas in a non-legal capacity, the privilege is not available.
Who owns the privilege?
The attorney-client privilege is owned by St. Thomas, not any individual affiliated with the university. Accordingly, the university’s attorneys may share privileged information on a need-to-know basis to the extent necessary to effectively represent St. Thomas, and it is the prerogative of the university, not any individual employee, to waive the privilege selectively or fully. Only properly authorized employees may decide to purposefully waive the privilege; most employees do not have this authority. Therefore, it is important to take steps to protect the privilege and minimize the risk of inadvertent waiver.
What can I do to preserve the privilege?
In order to protect the attorney-client privileged, you should:
- Only communicate about a legal matter with an OGC attorney, or with another attorney as directed by OGC. If you have a business need to communicate with other individuals about a legal matter, contact an OGC attorney first to determine how to maintain the attorney-client privilege.
- Mark communications (including emails) about legal matters as “Privileged and Confidential.”
- Mark documents to be reviewed by an attorney as “For Attorney Review.”
- Do not forward emails or other communications you receive from a university attorney, even internally, unless you are directed by OGC to do so or you first confirm with OGC that the communication is not covered by the attorney-client privilege.
- Do not share legal advice received from OGC with other people unless OGC authorizes you to do so.
If you have any questions about the attorney-client privilege, contact OGC.
OGC manages the response to all legal disputes, claims and complaints involving the university, including threatened and actual lawsuits in state and federal courts and charges from governmental agencies. If you are contacted by an attorney in connection with your work for St. Thomas, direct them to OGC and contact OGC as soon as possible. If someone threatens to file a claim or complaint against the university, contact OGC as soon as possible.
Only the St. Thomas general counsel and president are authorized to accept service of legal process on behalf of St. Thomas. If someone arrives at your office and asks you to accept legal papers on the university’s behalf, you should decline to accept the legal papers, direct the person to OGC, and contact OGC right away.
St. Thomas routinely receives legal information requests such as subpoenas, warrants and information requests from courts and government agencies. These requests may be in writing, in person or made by phone. OGC manages the response to legal requests and demands made to St. Thomas in coordination with records managers across the university. If someone asks you to accept a subpoena, warrant, or a similar information request or demand on the university’s behalf, please decline and direct the person to deliver the documents to OGC, which is located in Aquinas Hall Room 104 on the St. Paul campus. If you receive any of these documents in the mail or by email, please send them to OGC and contact OGC as soon as possible. If you receive a call from a government investigator or attorney requesting information relating to a St. Thomas matter, direct them to contact OGC. These kinds of requests often are time-sensitive and subject to legal procedural rules.