Attorney-client privilege protected defendants’ lawyers’ communications with PR firm hired to combat negative online treatment

In defending intellectual property claims over video games, defendants’ law firm hired a public relations firm to assist it with “input on legal strategy, including regarding initial pleadings and communications about the case to counteract [plaintiff’s] false and negative statement.” Defendants were allegedly being targeted by negative online attacks by the plaintiff.

During discovery, plaintiff served a subpoena on the hired PR firm, seeking, among other things, all documents relating to the communciations between the PR firm and defendants’ counsel.

Defendants sought to quash the subpoena, arguing the information was protected from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege. The court quashed the subpoena.

It found that because defendants’ counsel (and not defendants themselves) hired the PR firm to provide PR counseling specifically for the purposes of litigation strategy, the attorney-client privilege extended to the communications between the PR firm and defendants’ counsel pertaining to “giving and receiving legal advice about the appropriate response to the lawsuit and making related public statements.”

Specifically, these communications were

  • confidential communications made
  • between lawyers and public relation consultants
  • hired by the lawyers to assist them in dealing with the media in cases or litigation
  • that were made for the purpose of giving or receiving advice
  • directed at handling the client’s legal problems that were undeniably protected by the attorney client privilege.

The court similarly found that the attorney work product doctrine extended to the communications exchanged between the PR firm and defendants’ counsel. As could be seen by the privilege log, documents such as a “draft Answer and Counterclaim” and a “draft press release” would contain “the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of a party’s attorney or other representative concerning the litigation.” Moreover, documents such as a “draft Answer and Counterclaim” and a “draft press release” were “prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial.” Defendants’ counsel also did not waive their work-product protection when they shared otherwise valid work product (e.g. draft Answers or Counterclaims) with the PR firm for assistance because the communications were intended to be confidential.

Stardock Systems, Inc. v. Reiche, 2018 WL 6259536 (N.D.Cal. Nov. 30, 2018)

See also: Emails sent through Yahoo account using work computer protected under attorney-client privilege

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