JK Rowling’s Secret Revealed by her Attorney

A prominent British law firm recently admitted that it was responsible for leaking JK Rowling’s pen name in her new mystery novel.  The venerable author of the Harry Potter series intended to wear an invisibility cloak of her own, releasing her latest work – the Cuckoo’s Calling – under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  Rowling reportedly hoped to “publish without hype or expectation” that would accompany her true identity.  But the anonymity did not last long thanks to her attorney’s blunder at a cocktail party.

An entertainment lawyer retained by Rowling boasted to an acquaintance in a “private conversation” that Rowling authored the novel. That opened the floodgates. It didn’t take long for the friend to tweet the revelation to a reporter from the Sunday Times of London.  Once the Times got the tip, it contacted an Oxford professor who analyzed the text and concluded it was likely penned by Rowling. Following the disclosure, Rowling confirmed Galbraith’s true identity, and the novel became a critically acclaimed best-seller almost overnight.

Despite the public accolade and an apology from her attorney, Rowling remains distressed.  The author released a statement saying that “To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentially from […] a reputable firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”

Attorneys have an ethical duty to protect client information absent consent or special circumstances. When attorneys breach this duty, they risk losing the confidence of their clients, and may expose themselves to malpractice suits or disciplinary action.  Lawyers must resist the temptation to discuss confidential matters. Once confidential information is released, there can be no clawing it back.

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  1. I’m sad to learn that it was the author’s own lawyer who leaked this very confidential information. At first glance, I thought that she would have no claim for monetary damages, because she benefitted financially from the leak. However, I wonder if she might pursue damages for emotional distress and breach of contract. The former is covered by some malpractice policies and excluded by others. Contract damages and fee disputes of course are generally not covered. It will be interesting to see if the law firm suffers any repercussions for this egregious breach of trust. Thanks for an excellent article.

  2. Interesting…I’d be interested in knowing how many books had been sold at the time this “leak” was made and the sales made subsequently….

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