Broken secrets – where now for Rowling lawyers?

When your reputation relies on trust, where do you go when it is so publicly broken?
In every walk of life, in every business, trust and reliability is an important issue.

All of us want to know that we are working with people we can trust.

That is nowhere more important than in law, where client confidentiality is paramount.

The news last weekend that Robert Galbraith, a new and highly regarded writer was actually Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, caused something of a sensation.

All of a sudden, a critically acclaimed but low selling crime novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, was in such demand that the publishers had to issue a new print run.

PR stunt perhaps? I doubt it. JK Rowling does not need the money that a new book would generate and she is not the first writer or composer to see whether she could be successful again without the burden of her reputation standing before her.

It turns out that the story found its way to the Sunday Times via an indiscreet revelation to a journalist from a friend of the solicitor.

As Calacus tells its clients all the time, nothing is ever off the record where a journalist is concerned. We tell clients not to start telling media something they don’t think will be used because tapes have stopped running or cameras have been switched off.

I was a journalist myself and if someone told me something, I would try and prove it from other sources so as not to betray who told me in the first place. It is common practice. In the highly competitive world of journalism, we live and die by the stories we get.

You could argue that something of professional confidentiality should not have found its way to a friend of a friend in the first place.

Rowling was justifiably unhappy that the truth identity of her pseudonym had been revealed.

“I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced,” she said. “To say that I am disappointed is an understatement.”

Thankfully, there is little harm being done in this instance.

Rowling’s book sales have increased and the publisher will also get more revenue.

As for Russell’s, they should recover and it was a credit to them that issued a statement admitted culpability.

Of course, as a legal firm, they will not want to become associated with breaking confidentiality again even if it was through Chinese whispers from an unlikely third party.

But when more serious issues are at stake, it’s worth remembering – trying to hide or avoid the media when the blame falls on you is the worst possible course of action.

Crisis communications manuals often explain how the way a problem is dealt with is almost always more of a barometer of reputation than the crisis itself.

So remember – act fast, be open and honest and whatever you do, try not to tell a journalist something sensitive “off the record”!