I’m in London this week and, while the big story here is the impending birth of the future British monarch, another news item caught my eye. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was unmasked as the author of a crime novel, Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the nom de plume Robert Galbreith. The initial thought was that it was a publicity stunt (the disclosure led to a big increase in sales of the novel); then a reporter tried to take credit for keen detective work. But the real answer was more simple—it seems that one of Ms. Rowling’s lawyers let it slip in a “private conversation” with his wife’s best friend.
The law firm’s response did little to satisfy Ms. Rowling; it claimed that “the disclosure was made in confidence to someone [the lawyer] he trusted implicitly.” Well.
While I’m no expert on UK confidentiality obligations, one would think that the lawyer’s confidentiality obligation is greater than the “wife’s best friend” confidentiality obligation. Certainly, if Ms. Rowling’s counsel were a US lawyer, he’d be in more trouble than Dudley Dursley in a snake pit. While everyone knows that the attorney-client privilege applies to legal advice, the duty of confidentiality is much broader. Model Rule 1.6 provides that a “lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent…” That’s pretty broad; certainly, it would include disclosing a client’s pseudonym (and pretty much anything else about a client).
As if Ms. Rowling didn’t have enough problems, one web site has noted scenes in the HP movies that actually defy reality. Where’s Dumbledore when you need him?