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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Talking in Public: A Cautionary Tale for Lawyers

Kenneth Vogel of The New York Times has this remarkable story that should serve as a cautionary tale for all attorneys who may feel tempted to speak about their cases and clients outside of the office. Vogel reports that he was getting lunch with a source in a Washington DC restaurant, when he noticed Ty Cobb, the attorney retained by the White House to assist in responding to various Russia investigations, having a conversation with John Dowd, Trump's "lead outside counsel in the Russia investigations."

Mr. Cobb was not difficult to notice, on account of his incredible moustache:

Mr. Cobb chose to discuss his work in representing the White House in the Russia investigations, and apparently talked loudly and extensively enough about his work to give rise to this story detailing the conflict among Trump's attorneys over the proper level of cooperation in the Russia investigations.

From Vogel's article describing how he got the scoop:
I ordered yet another iced tea, and continued typing away, as Mr. Cobb and Mr. Dowd delved deeper, not paying me any mind.
They discussed presidential privilege and its effect on document production, tensions on the legal team and their colleagues. Mr. Cobb suggested one colleague was not on the president’s good side, but added, “I’m trying to get the president not to pick a fight with her.”
Finally, after more than 45 minutes of my assiduously listening to their conversation by myself, Mr. Cobb picked up the check and announced to Mr. Dowd, “All right, boss, I got to roll back to my little hole. I’ve got like a seven and a half foot ceiling ... Wilt Chamberlain couldn’t stand up in it.”
Attorneys are often warned during training or in law firm policies to avoid discussing matters related to their work in public settings. Whether it is in a restaurant, on the sidewalk, or in the elevator, attorneys should avoid discussing clients and cases, as any information communicated to lawyers is privileged, and attorneys' strategies and theories are protected by the work product doctrine. Speaking up about privileged information in a public setting is a very easy way for an attorney to run into serious problems.

Warnings against public discussion of work are often confined to the hypothetical elevator or restaurant. But Vogel's article gives a spectacular real-world example of what attorneys everywhere should avoid doing.

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