On the Scope of the Attorney Client Privilege In ERISA Litigation

This really isn’t an instance of logrolling (or blogrolling, as the case may be), I promise, even though Roy Harmon’s post that I am passing along here refers to me and my electronic discovery post a few times; the subject of Roy’s post got my attention and led me to read it long before I realized the peripheral role I played in it.

Roy provides a very erudite discussion of a particular quirk and issue of some real concern in litigating ERISA cases, which is the scope of the attorney client privilege that exists - or often doesn’t - between a plan’s fiduciaries and its legal counsel, when engaged in a dispute with a plan participant. As Roy details, there often is no privilege in that situation that would prevent disclosure to the plan participant of legal advice obtained by the plan fiduciary. Its an interesting problem, one that arises in everything from determining the contents of an administrative record to be produced in a benefits denial case (i.e., is legal advice received by the plan administrator in deciding to deny benefits privileged or not?) to the extent to which the privilege can be raised in defending a deposition in a breach of fiduciary duty case. Roy’s analogy to multi-level chess with regard to these issues is apt, and illustrative of exactly the type of complicated gamesmanship that keeps litigators interested in the otherwise often dull interstices between trials.