In American civil procedure
, the work-product doctrine
protects materials prepared in anticipation of litigation
by opposing counsel. It is also known as the work-product rule, the work-product immunity, the work-product privilege (somewhat erroneous terminology), and the work-product exception.
Under the work-product doctrine, "tangible material or its intangible equivalent" that is collected or prepared in anticipation of litigation is not discoverable, and may be shielded from discovery by a Protective Order, unless the party seeking discovery can demonstrate that the sought facts can only be obtained through discovery and that those facts are indispensable for impeaching or substantiating a claim. That is, the party unable to obtain the information has no other means of obtaining the information without undue hardship
. For example, the witness may have left the country. Where the required showing is made, the court will still protect mental impressions of an attorney by redacting that part of the document containing the mental impressions.
Comparison with attorney-client privilege
The work-product doctrine is more inclusive than attorney-client privilege
. Unlike the attorney-client privilege, which includes only communications between an attorney and his client, work-product includes materials prepared by persons other than the attorney himself: The materials may have been prepared by anybody as long as they were prepared with an eye towards the realistic possibility of impending litigation. Additionally, it includes materials collected for the attorney such as interrogatories, signed statements, other information acquired for the prosecution or defense of a case, "memoranda, briefs, communications . . . other writings prepared by counsel for his own use in prosecuting his client's case . . . mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories."
However, the work-product doctrine is also less powerful than the attorney-client privilege because it is not a privilege, and therefore may be overcome by a showing of necessity, as described above.
The work-product doctrine originated in the 1947 case of Hickman v. Taylor
, in which the Supreme Court
affirmed a United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
decision which excluded from discovery of oral and written statements made by witnesses to a defendant's attorney. The Supreme Court, acting at the recommendation of the Advisory Committee of the Judicial Conference
, later enshrined this doctrine formally in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
as Rule 26(b)(3).