Litigation. Lawyers love to argue about attorney-client privilege. What could be juicier than to find out what your adversary in litigation said to his or her attorney, believing it to be covered by this privilege, a privilege that is so sacrosanct that the Supreme Court has ruled that it extends beyond the grave?

Nevertheless, the attorney-client privilege can easily be lost or waived. For example, if the communication is revealed to a non-attorney third party, it risks waiver.

The world of computer technology and email has given rise to new grist for the waiver doctrine. Most companies inform their employees (in employee manuals, for example) that communications utilizing the company’s internal email system are open to review and examination by the employer. According, it is established law that an employee who uses her employer’s email system to communicate with an attorney has waived the privilege. Most lawyers, aware of this, instruct their clients who wish to communicate from work to use an Internet-based email system, such as Google’s Gmail or Yahoo Mail.… Read the full article

Litigation. In Pease v. Tyco Electronics Corp., decided on September 7, 2006, Massachusetts Federal District Court Judge Ponsor dismissed wrongful termination claims by a former employee of Tyco, based on evidence that the employee had lied to Tyco regarding his education (an MBA), and then modified and destroyed files on his computer to cover up his actions during the litigation. Among other things, this case shows how effective forensic examination of a computer can be in litigation, as well as the fact that federal judges simply won’t tolerate this kind of conduct.

Of course, the case also shows that when an employee brings a suit like this he had better make sure that he has no skeletons in the closet.… Read the full article

Do We Have a Deal, or Not?

by Lee Gesmer on September 11, 2006


“Of course, this letter is not intended to create, nor do you or we presently have any binding legal obligation whatever in any way . . ..”

In 1991 those words played a major role in the Massachusetts Appeal Court’s reversal of a $32 million trial judgment against Federal-Mogul Corp. in the case (infamous to Massachusetts business lawyers of the time) of Schwanbeck v. Federal-Mogul. The plaintiff in that case claimed he had a deal to buy a division of Federal-Mogul, and FM had breached that agreement. While the trial court agreed (resulting in the $32 million judgment), the Appeals Court reversed, in part on the language quoted above.

That case was an object lesson to attorneys in our firm involved in M&A transactions that it was essential to include “no legal obligation” language in every transaction, unless and until our client was prepared to be legally bound. An article that I wrote in 1991 discussing this case in more detail is linked here.… Read the full article