Washington Law Review

Comment

Anything but Common: New York’s “Pending or Anticipated Litigation” Limitation to the Common Interest Doctrine Creates More Problems than It Solves

June 19, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 983

Abstract: New York’s highest court recently handed down Ambac v. Countrywide, a decision that has major ramifications in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) world. Once parties sign a merger or acquisition agreement, they share a common interest in ensuring that both parties comply with applicable laws, a process that requires legal communications with each other’s attorneys. Under the common interest doctrine, Delaware and the majority of federal circuits apply the attorney-client privilege to shield many of these communications from discovery. However, Ambac upset M&A attorneys’ reliance on the common interest doctrine by holding that parties to a merger waive their attorney-client privilege when they share legal advice with the other entity’s attorneys, unless the communications relate to pending or anticipated litigation. In addition to the M&A world, Ambac will have negative consequences for many business entities attempting to comply with the law on advice from counsel during major transactions. While a number of commentators have addressed the litigation requirement tangentially, there is currently no thorough evaluation of the state of this requirement, which has special relevance in the post-Ambac world. This Comment evaluates the history and purpose of the common interest doctrine and surveys the current state of the law across multiple jurisdictions. This Comment then argues that Ambac’s litigation requirement is contrary to the purpose of the attorney-client privilege—to encourage persons and entities to freely seek legal advice in order to comply with the law. Finally, this Comment urges the many jurisdictions with underdeveloped law on the common interest doctrine to reject Ambac’s restrictive litigation requirement.

Download Full Comment