This Report and Recommended Best Practices are the product of a Task Force established in early-2008 by the White Collar Crime Committee of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section. They are intended to address an increasingly-common question associated with the attorney-client privilege: What best practices should corporate counsel follow when interacting with corporate employees while conducting internal investigations on behalf of the corporate entity? In particular, what advice or warnings – commonly referred to as Upjohn warnings, or corporate Miranda warnings – should corporate counsel (attorneys for any legal entity that is distinct from its members) provide to corporate Constituents (employees, officers and directors) and how should counsel give those warnings?
Upjohn warnings are named after Upjohn v. United States, 449 U.S. 383 (1981), the case in which the Supreme Court made clear that the corporate attorney-client privilege applied to a much wider group of Constituents than the corporation’s “control group.” Once Upjohn confirmed that communications between corporate counsel and lower-level employees were potentially privileged, issues arose as to who held the privilege and who could waive the privilege.
Whether the corporation, the Constituent, or the corporation and the Constituent is the holder of the privilege has taken on special significance with the promulgation of federal corporate prosecution guidelines that have incentivized corporations under investigation to waive the privilege in order to gain cooperation credit. In the typical case, a corporation that receives allegations of wrongdoing will retain counsel to conduct an internal investigation to assess the allegations and provide legal advice. Corporate counsel will, in turn, interview the relevant corporate Constituents who possess knowledge about the allegations. Those interviews – involving only corporate counsel and the Constituent – are usually subject to a legitimate claim of attorney-client privilege.
But if the corporation later comes under investigation, especially federal investigation, it may seek to obtain cooperation credit – to mitigate criminal or civil regulatory exposure – by waiving the privilege and producing to the government the statements made by Constituents to corporate counsel during the internal investigation. Upjohn warnings have therefore emerged as the mechanism for making clear to Constituents that the corporation, and the corporation alone, is the holder of the privilege. In the absence of such warnings, Constituents may be able to assert that they, too, hold the privilege: that, as privilege holders, they elect not to waive the privilege, and that the corporation may not produce their statements to government investigators. By providing unambiguous warnings, corporate counsel may be able to limit later disputes over the extent and nature of the attorney-client relationship, and Constituents are better able to assess their own risks.
The draft also includes a recommended Upjohn warning.
I am a lawyer from Corporation A. I represent only Corporation A, and I do not represent you. I am conducting this interview to gather facts in order to provide legal advice for Corporation A. I am conducting this interview as part of an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances of X in order to advise Corporation A how best to proceed.
Your communications with me are protected by the attorney-client privilege. In order for the communication to be subject to the privilege, it must be kept in confidence. In other words, you may not disclose the substance of this interview to any third party, including other employees or anyone outside of the company.
But the attorney-client privilege belongs solely to Corporation A, not you. That means that Corporation A alone may elect to waive the attorney-client privilege and reveal our discussion to third parties. Corporation A alone may decide to waive the privilege and disclose this discussion to such third parties as federal or state agencies, at its sole discretion, and without notifying you.
Do you have any questions?
Are you willing to proceed?