Harry Potter Privilege of Silence

J._K._Rowling_at_the_White_House_2010-04-05_8I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was a sixteen-year old summer student at Duke University. Harry, Hermione, Ron and the whole Hogwarts gang then joined me on an eight year trek across the globe. I read 7 books in 7 cities: Durham, Kingston, Almaty, Johannesburg, Puno, Port of Spain, and New York, New York.

Needless to say, I love JK Rowling’s writing. I lugged  400+ page books around the world after all. Of course I read all of her Harry Potter follow-ups – the three Potter supplements, The Casual Vacancy, I even signed up for Potterverse, her online Harry Potter fantasy world. So imagine my excitement when I read that JK Rowling had been announced as the author of a previously published MYSTERY novel. I was ecstatic. I immediately went down to my local bookstore (Amazon) and bought myself a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith,” aka JK Rowling.

But it turns out this mystery novel has a surprising twist. See, Ms. Rowling never agreed to have her name revealed as the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling. What happened? A columnist for the Sunday Times in London tweeted that she had quite enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling. A mystery woman then tweeted the columnist to inform her that the author was one JK Rowling. The Times quickly commissioned a linguist who found similarities between the text of the book and other Rowling writings. The Times then went to Rowling’s agent who confirmed their suspicions – JK Rowling was Robert Galbraith, the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

So who was the mystery woman Tweeter? None other than a friend of one Chris Gossage. Mr. Gossage is a partner at Russells Solicitors. Russells is the law firm representative for JK Rowling. The mystery tweeter is a friend of Mr. Gossage’s wife. Why he told her and why she tweeted it are mysteries that may never be solved.

The attorney-client privilege may not be a very exciting topic to talk about. It’s one of those things that many of us heard about since law school or before. And yet many of us forget how, with rare exception, absolute the privilege should be. To use wizarding lingo, the privilege should cast a Silencio charm over any conversation related to your client’s, or even potential client’s, confidential communications. Your firm has a famous athlete client who’s getting a divorce and you’ve just finished reading his juicy divorce documents? Silencio. Your banking client has several employees who gossip about their executives on instant messaging chats, all of which you’ve read in discovery? Silencio. You’re in-house at a public company that’s internally discussed splitting in half and you want to talk to your parents about what that means for your job? Expecto silencium.

We live in an information sharing age where we make our private lives public to friends, family and Google, Inc.  But when we release our clients’ confidential communications to be popular or funny or just plain chatty, we violate the attorney client privilege without excuse or justification. And we do it for one person’s benefit – our own.

Our clients trust us. Whether they’re Morgan Stanley on Wall Street or Stanley Morgan on Main Street, we owe them our confidentiality, our discretion, and our silence. They’re paying for a learned advisor and trusted counselor, not a gossip hound. So to quote Ms. Rowling herself – Silencio. It works like a charm.

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