Loose Lips

It was revealed this week that a mystery novel titled The Cuckoo’s Calling and written by Robert Galbraith was in fact authored by someone named J.K. Rowling, whose name in the author’s slot on a book has been enough to cause children and their parents to line up in front of bookstores at midnight. The news leaked as the result of a Twitter tweet and spread very quickly. After the dust settled and the smoke cleared a book which had sold a few hundred copies since its publication in late April 2013 suddenly became very much in demand. Rowling, her publicist, and any number of people were accused of having leaked the true identity of the author to the world in an effort to boost sales of the book. It was revealed yesterday, however, that the cause of the leak was an attorney in the employ of the law firm which handles Rowling’s literary business. As an attorney myself, I’m embarrassed.

One of the things that is drummed into young skulls full of mush in law school, and thereafter in countless continuing legal education courses, is something called “client confidentiality.” Most people are familiar with the concept, at least in passing. It’s simple enough: if you tell your attorney something they take it to their grave. Believe me, attorneys hear some very interesting things. Not all of us represent someone on the order of J.K. Rowling, but there are any number of times that someone has told me something within ten minutes after sitting down in front of me that they’ve never told anyone else. What I’m told often comes under the heading of “too much information,” and occasionally I pray for selective amnesia, but that’s the way it goes.  Whatever I’m told,  however, stops with me, even in general terms. For but one example: if one practices family law and the next door neighbor comes to the office to discuss a possible divorce action, one does not go home and tell their spouse, “Guess who came in and talked to me today!” and give the spouse five guesses where the first six don’t count, all the while gesturing toward the house next door. The confidentiality, by the way, belongs to the client; to continue with the example, if the next door neighbor wants to tell the world who they consulted about a divorce, and what was discussed, that is their privilege. It doesn’t release the attorney, however, from the obligation of client confidentiality. Only the client can do that at their discretion and pleasure. Client confidentiality obtains in the state where I practice whether the prospective client ultimately retains the attorney or not. The “give me a dollar and I can’t discuss this with anyone else” is a great device to build suspense in a book, but it doesn’t apply in the real world. This makes sense. A prospective client has to be able to speak freely — spill their guts, as it were — so that the attorney can properly evaluate the case, make recommendations, and decide whether to represent the individual or recommend that they go elsewhere.

In Rowling’s case, the firm handling her legal matters with respect to her publishing — Russells — issued a terse though ultimately self-serving statement to the effect that Chris Gossage, a firm partner, had disclosed the information about Galbraith’s true identity to his “wife’s best friend” who ultimately tweeted her newly found knowledge to the world. Russells additionally stated that Gossage had made the disclosure “in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly.” This is a round-about way of assuming responsibility but not taking blame. It’s nonsense. An attorney receiving knowledge in confidence cannot subsequently disclose that knowledge to a third party in confidence. The information stops within the confines of the four walls of the office.

Rowling I am sure had her reasons for  wishing to preserve her anonymity with respect to her authorship of The Cuckoo’s Calling. I don’t know what they might have been, and though I’m curious, it ultimately makes no difference. She doesn’t even need a reason. If you make a disclosure to your attorney the walls go up. That increase in sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling which occurred after Rowling’s confidentiality was breached is irrelevant. My gut instinct is that Rowling would have been much happier if the sales of the book had remained where they were and the secret of her identity had been preserved.

I’m unhappy about this, for so many reasons. So please. Make me laugh. Tell me the best lawyer joke you know.

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35 thoughts on “Loose Lips

  1. The Cuckoo’s Strike – do you know, I rather prefer that title…

    One woman to her friend: “It’s finally over – Frank’s lawyer got the apartment and my lawyer got both cars and the beach house.”

  2. What Lexi is so kindly and gently referring to is that I had the title of Galbraith’s book wrong and called it “The Cuckoo’s Strike” throughout. I have since corrected. Thank you, Lexi! I love the joke…I hadn’t heard that one and I have heard many of them.

  3. A lawyer needed some aerial photos of his client’s house damaged by the big wildfires out west. He got to the small local airport, saw a plane idling on the tarmac, ran over and got in.

    “You can take off now,” he shouted. The pilot shrugged and took off.

    When they leveled off the lawyer said, “Turn and fly low over there where all the smoke is.”

    “Why?” the pilot asked.

    “Because I’m a lawyer and I need to take some pictures over there.”

    The pilot sat quietly a moment. “You mean you’re not the instructor?”

  4. There are no “best” lawyer jokes!

    Ahem.

    Re:Rowling. I salute her for doing this, though I have to believe she and everyone else in the pipeline knew the truth would come out at some point. You can’t hide anymore, at least for very long. Back when King was Bachman, there was no internet, so it was much easier to do.

    But that doesn’t excuse Mr. Loose Lips.

    Sometimes lawyers, in court, write their own jokes. Like the lawyer who was cross-examining and shouted, “Is that the same nose you broke as a child?”

  5. What’s the difference between a shark and a lawyer?

    One is a disgusting bottom-feeder and the other is a fish.

  6. Planned “leak.” Her last non-Rowling book tanked and that’s probably where this one was headed, not anymore. “I’m shocked, shocked…

  7. A young lawyer leaving the party celebrating his making partner is run over and killed by a bus. At the Pearly Gates (I know, what are the odds he would be there?), he complains to St. Peter that he was in his thirties, just made partner, and had a very promising career ahead of him. He was too young! St. Peter responded that according to the lawyer’s billable time records, he was 86 years old.

  8. (Maybe I should add that we have a very nice attorney whom we’ve used for years and whom we trust and like. This is just a lawyer joke, like all the Norwegian jokes I hear.)

  9. I agree with you 100%. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lawyer in question got the sack. This is a huge breach in professional ethics. Telling his wife’s best friend sounds like they are all in high school.

    Also:

    Client comes into a lawyer’s office. Lawyer has him put his hand on the bible and recite: “I promise to pay the bill. The whole bill. And nothing but the bill.”

  10. Just this week in our local newspaper I read about a Texas lawyer who was too big when he died that they couldn’t find a coffin large enough to hold his body.

    They gave him an enema and buried him in a shoe box.

    (I think his girth had more to do with him being from Texas.)

  11. Q. What’s the difference between a porcupine and 4 lawyers in an Porsche?

    A. The porcupine has its pricks on the outside.

  12. My step-father is a lawyer, so I know quite a few. I always hoped, growing up, that they would get under his skin, but he loved ’em. He is definitely one of the good ones, though.

    To wit:

    When a ship sinks and folks go overboard, why don’t sharks ever eat the lawyers?

    Professional Courtesy.

    What do you call a personal injury lawyer rear-ending a stopped ambulance?

    Poetic Justice. (or comedic irony, take your pick)

    What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

    A good start.

  13. I hadn’t heard the stopped ambulance joke, Jake. Another good one! And your ocean jokes are classics!

    It has been my experience that the best lawyer jokes I have heard (present company excluded) have been from lawyers. Apparently being a good sport is a requirement of membership to the club. Thanks.

  14. I was extremely disheartened when I saw the news about her pseudonym being leaked. But I did like this little lesson in confidentiality.

    I found this one just online the other day. Thought it was funny:

    Following a distinguished legal career, a man arrived at the Gates of Heaven, accompanied by the Pope, who had the misfortune to expire on the same day. The Pope was greeted first by St. Peter, who escorted him to his quarters. The room was somewhat shabby and small, similar to that found in a low-grade Motel 6-type establishment. The lawyer was then taken to his room, which was a palatial suite including a private swimming pool, a garden, and a terrace overlooking the Gates. The attorney was somewhat taken aback, and told St. Peter, “I’m really quite surprised at these rooms, seeing as how the Pope was given such small accommodations.” St. Peter replied, “We have over a hundred Popes here, and we’re really very bored with them. We’ve never had a lawyer.”

    • That’s a classic Peter! It’s also one that I told to a crowd at a bar association function and which was greeted with ominous silence.

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