OPINION OF THE COURT
SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.
Emanuel Liebman and the law firm of Liebman & Flaster appeal from a district court order 569 F.Supp. 761 (D.N.J.1983) directing them to comply with an Internal Revenue Service summons. The appellants claim that enforcement of the summons, which seeks the names of all clients who paid fees over a three-year period in connection with the acquisition of certain tax shelters, would violate the attorney-client privilege. We agree, and we will reverse.
Facts and Procedural History
The appellants, who specialize in tax law, investigate and evaluate real estate partnerships for clients who want to invest for tax purposes. At least for the period at issue here, the firm charged fees only to those clients who invested. Liebman & Flaster concedes that each of these clients was advised that the fee was deductible as a legal expense. Brief for Appellants at 7. The IRS contends, however, that the fees are not legal fees but brokerage charges, and are therefore not deductible. When the IRS discovered that some investors had deducted fees paid to Liebman & Flaster, the agency sought to ascertain the names of others who might have done the same by various cross-matching methods. This information is not readily available to the IRS from the returns of the other investors because taxpayers who deduct legal fees are not required to identify the recipients. Frustrated in its effort to find the other taxpayers, the IRS sought a John Doe summons to compel the law firm to identify clients who had paid fees in connection with real estate partnerships.
The IRS petitioned the district court under Section 7609(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, which permits service of a John Doe summons upon a showing that it relates to an "ascertainable group or class of persons" when there is "a reasonable basis for believing" that these persons have failed to comply with a tax code provision and the information sought is "not readily available from other sources." The summons requested "books, records, papers, billing ledgers and any other data which contains, reflects, or evidences the names, addresses and/or social security numbers of clients who paid fees in connection with the acquisition of real estate partnership interests in 1978, 1979 and/or 1980." App. at 12a.
Liebman and his firm objected that enforcement of the summons would violate the attorney-client privilege. The district court rejected the claim and granted the enforcement order, although it permitted the attorneys to produce a list of names rather than their records. See App. at 147a.
This appeal was taken from the district court's order.
The sole issue before us is whether the attorney-client privilege protects the identities
It is well established that "absent unusual circumstances the identity of the client does not come within the attorney-client privilege." Gannet v. First National State Bank of New Jersey, 546 F.2d 1072, 1073 n. 4 (3d Cir.1976), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 954, 97 S.Ct. 2674, 53 L.Ed.2d 270 (1977). See 2 Weinstein's Evidence ¶ 503(a)(4), at 503-32 & n. 2 (1982). The courts have found such "unusual circumstances" where so much of the actual attorney-client communication has already been disclosed that identifying the client amounts to full disclosure of the communication. NLRB v. Harvey, 349 F.2d 900, 905 (4th Cir.1965). See also In re Grand Jury Proceedings—Gordon, Witness, 722 F.2d 303, 307 (6th Cir.1983); Grand Jury Empanelled February 14, 1978 (Markowitz), 603 F.2d 469, 473-74 (3d Cir.1979); United States v. Pape, 144 F.2d 778, 783 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 323 U.S. 752, 65 S.Ct. 86, 89 L.Ed. 602 (1944).
In Markowitz, we approvingly referred to cases affirming that the attorney-client privilege applies to the identity of a client in such a situation. We stated.
Markowitz, 603 F.2d at 473. We held that the privilege was inapplicable in Markowitz because there were no confidences to which Markowitz' client would be linked were its identity known. Id.
In this case, appellants argue persuasively that protected confidences would be revealed by disclosing the clients' identities. If the summons merely requested the names of clients who paid fees, the information would not be protected by the attorney-client privilege. However, the summons is more specific. The affidavit of the IRS agent supporting the request for the summons not only identifies the subject matter of the attorney-client communication, but also describes its substance. That is, the affidavit does more than identify the communications as relating to the deductibility of legal fees paid to Liebman & Flaster in connection with the acquisition of a real estate partnership interest, App. at 116a-121a. It goes on to reveal the content of the communication, namely that "taxpayers ... were advised by Liebman & Flaster that the fee was deductible for income tax purposes." App. at 117a. Thus, this case falls within the situation where "so much of the actual communication had already been established, that to disclose the client's name would disclose the essence of a confidential communication...." See United States v. Jeffers, 532 F.2d 1101, 1115 (7th Cir.1976) (and cases cited therein).
The fact that the district court's enforcement order limited appellants' obligations to producing a list of names rather than their records does not alter the scope of the information sought, since the IRS has averred, and Liebman & Flaster have acknowledged, that the clients who paid fees for such advice were told they were deductible. Because the IRS request was limited to the group of persons who paid for specific investment advice, the IRS would automatically identify those who were told they could make the questionable deductions.
This construction of the privilege is unduly narrow. As we stressed in Markowitz, "it is the previously revealed confidence, not the fact of potential criminal prosecution, which accounts for the privilege." Markowitz, 603 F.2d at 473 n. 4 (emphasis added). Other courts have agreed that application of the privilege to a client's identity is not limited to discussions of criminal activity or torts. See In re Grand Jury (Osterhoudt), 722 F.2d 591, 593 (9th Cir.1983); In re Grand Jury Investigation No. 83-2-35, 723 F.2d 447, 453 (6th Cir.1983); NLRB v. Harvey, 349 F.2d 900, 907 (4th Cir.1965). To limit the protection of a client's identity as the IRS urges would vitiate the privilege. It does not advance resolution of the issue to argue, as does the IRS, that the attorney-client privilege "is an obstacle to the search for the truth." Brief for the Appellee at 8. The salutary purpose of the privilege has recently been noted in Upjohn v. United States, 449 U.S. at 389, 101 S.Ct. at 682, where the Court stated,
All legal communications entered into with the expectation of privacy are privileged whatever the initial purpose of the consultation.
Nor do we see any basis for holding that the communication itself is not within the scope of the privilege. At issue is not the mere disclosure of the act of retaining a lawyer, a fact not normally privileged, but the disclosure of a substantial confidential communication. See Osterhoudt, 722 F.2d at 594; Colton v. United States, 306 F.2d 633, 637 (2d Cir.1962), cert. denied, 371 U.S. 951, 83 S.Ct. 505, 9 L.Ed.2d 499 (1963).
If appellants were required to identify their clients as requested, that identity, when combined with the substance of the communication as to deductibility that is already known, would provide all there is to know about a confidential communication between the taxpayer-client and the attorney. Disclosure of the identity of the client would breach the attorney-client privilege to which that communication is entitled.