Company Secrets Come in Many Forms, and All Deserve Protection

The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t, as its dust jacked proclaimed, a debut novel penned by Robert Galbraith. It was written by beloved Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

After The Sunday Times broke the story, critics began to suggest that the revelation was merely an elaborate marketing ploy. It wasn’t a fantastic assumption, but Rowling insisted otherwise.

“I was yearning to go back to the beginning… to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback,” the author wrote on a website dedicated to her nom de plume. “If anyone had seen the labyrinthine plans I laid to conceal my identity, they would realize how little I wanted to be discovered.”

Then, in a “sheepish” statement released last Thursday, Rowling’s law firm fessed up.

According to The New York Times, the Russells Law Firm admitted that partner Chris Gossage had revealed Rowling’s secret to his wife’s friend, Judith Callegari, who promptly contacted a reporter via Twitter (then immediately deleted her tweets). The firm, which specializes in entertainment law, “apologized unreservedly” to Rowling, but clarified that the lawyer had spoken privately “to someone he trusted completely.”

As an attorney, what concerns me most is Chris Gossage’s complete disregard for client confidentiality – and its implications for the entire profession.

The incident, which has already netted Rowling several hundred thousand dollars (admittedly a drop in the bucket compared to her nearly $1 billion net worth), will certainly be more damaging to her lawyers than it will be to her publishers. I expect Russell’s faux pas will make many entertainment-business clients nervous that their lawyers will also leak privileged information.

Businesspeople who breach confidentiality – whether they’re revealing a trade secret to a competitor or gossiping with a trusted friend – always assume they won’t be discovered. Trouble is, they’re often wrong. They either leave a trail or the person they tell blabs, just as Judith Callegari did.

According to BBC News, the law firm, Gossage, and Callegari have apologized, and the firm has agreed to pay all of Rowling’s legal costs. It also agreed to make a payment to The Soldiers’ Charity, formerly known as the Army Benevolent Fund.

The moral of this story: never reveal company secrets, even to people you trust. If you believe you’ve unwittingly revealed confidential information, contact an experienced trade secret attorney.


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