Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 52

LAST WORD

Editors' Note: To honor the memory of Jacob
Stein, Washington Lawyer is reprinting some
of Stein's "Legal Spectator" columns, which
appeared on this page for nearly 25 years.

LEGAL SPECTATOR
By Jake Stein

KEEPING SECRETS
Whom a statesman trusts at all he should trust largely, not to say
unboundedly; and he should avow his trust to the world. In nine cases
out of ten of betrayed confidence in affairs of State, vanity is the traitor.
When a man comes into possession of some chance secrets now and
then - some one or two - he is tempted to parade them to this friend
or that. But when he is known to be trusted with all manner of secrets, his
vanity is interested, not to show them, but to show that he can keep
them. And his fidelity of heart is also better secured.
- SIR HENRY TAYLOR

S

ir Henry makes two points. The first point is obvious. It is the vanity of being
known to be trusted with a secret that impels me to disclose it. I prove I am
someone of importance by disclosing the secret that someone of established importance has entrusted to me.
Sir Henry's second point is not so obvious. He explains how vanity is used to keep
a secret. In order to preserve my reputation as one who can keep a secret, I must
not give secrets away. Vanity overcomes vanity.
There is a pleasure in remaining silent when others speak with authority concerning things they don't know about and that I do know about because of
secret information. It is the pleasure of certainty held in reserve. It is Prana
pleasure. Prana is the vital energy that the yogi masters say rises or falls in accordance with our doing right or doing wrong. The stronger the impulse to tell a
secret, the greater the victory in remaining silent and the better the Prana.
Social beings, as we are, need secrets. We protect ourselves against our enemies
with our secrets. Battle plans are highly secret. In World War II the United States
broke the Japanese code and Great Britain broke the German code. Winston
Churchill said this secret was so valuable that it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies. Secrecy for some is a full-time occupation. Secrecy is in our genes.
Lawyers have a professional obligation to keep secret what their clients tell them.
When we become members of the bar, we join an exclusive group that has
access to other people's secrets. We are in the know.
A lawyer with a good secret is a natural target for a journalist. It is the lawyer's
obligation to keep the secret, and it is the journalist's obligation to discover the
secret. The journalist relies on flattery to get things moving. The journalist puts in
a call to the lawyer. He says he values the lawyer's opinion, the lawyer has a fine
reputation, the lawyer is thought to be more competent than other lawyers.
When flattery of this type is administered, the lawyer has no desire to conclude
the conversation. Good manners require the lawyer to give something in return
for all this flattery. He hints at what he knows. He speaks without attribution, off
the record, don't mention me, I will deny it. As the lawyer continues to talk, he
hears the clicking of the journalist's computer keyboard.
There is an assumption that skill in keeping secrets comes with the reading of the
Rules of Professional Conduct and the cases concerning the attorney-client

52 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

JULY/AUGUST 2019

*

privilege. Not necessarily so. There are those who are good at keeping client
secrets, and there are those who are not so good.
Let me describe a lawyer who was good at keeping secrets. I first met him when
he was winding down a long active career. He had access to the secrets of many
people. He had the reputation Sir Henry described, the reputation for keeping
secrets. As you might expect, he was a good listener. He did not hint that he
knew more than he was permitted to say. He did not assert opinions based on
secret knowledge. He told no anecdotes involving his representation of wellknown people. His conversation invited what others knew rather than what he
knew. For him it was a matter of personal honor to keep secrets, over and above
any professional obligation.
The attorney-client privilege commenced long ago in England. It was the barrister's personal honor that was at issue. He would be dishonored if he revealed
anything the client told him. Even the client could not order him to reveal what
was said. Over time the English judges narrowed the privilege and changed it
around to protect the client and not the honor of the lawyer.
In its present form the privilege is sterile. It gives protection only if the client seeks
legal advice. People in real trouble need more than strictly legal advice. They
need someone to hear them out, in private, with the comfort that what is said will
never be revealed. The religious privilege gives this. I hope that someday
attorney-client privilege is given the same breadth.
Both privileges require that the parties intend that what is said is to be secret.
Both require the secrecy to be absolute. The difference is that the religious privilege provides a protected setting of compassion that an experienced lawyer is
well suited to administer. The right lawyer has been known to prevent a suicide
attempt, especially if she can suggest that the statute may have run.
Here I quote Wigmore on the religious privilege: "Even assuming that confessions
of legal misdeeds continued to be made, the gain would be merely the parties'
own confession. This species of evidence . . . ought in no system of law be relied
on as a chief material object of proof."
The alternative to what I propose would be for lawyers to add a doctorate in
divinity to their doctorate in law. A friend of mine, an active local trial lawyer, had
both qualifications, theological and legal. She need not worry about the technicalities of the attorney-client privilege. She gave solace as needed. What was not
covered by the attorney-client privilege was picked up by the religious privilege.
The many who unburdened themselves to her were assured that nothing that
was said would be revealed. No time. Not ever. Absolutely never.
One of the reasons lawyers do not keep secrets is the damnable need to advertise for new business. This mitigating circumstance should be weighed against
such vulgar indiscretions as client name-dropping and hints at secrets that if
revealed would change the course of history.
This column originally appeared in the March 20001 issue of Washington Lawyer.


https://www.dcbar.org/

Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Leading The Bar In Pursuit Of Service
2019 D.C. Bar Election Coverage
Our Membership: Adapting To A Changing Legal Landscape
Finding Community In Voluntary Bars
Bar Business: Annual Report
Member Spotlight
Enforcing the Rules feature
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Leading The Bar In Pursuit Of Service
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 2019 D.C. Bar Election Coverage
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Our Membership: Adapting To A Changing Legal Landscape
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Enforcing the Rules feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Finding Community In Voluntary Bars
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 28
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Bar Business: Annual Report
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 30
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 36
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 48
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 49
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - 51
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2019 - Cover4
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/julyaugust2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/june2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/June/July2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/March2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/February2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/december2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/November2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september 2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september 2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/july2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/June2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/february2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/december2016
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2016/
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/october2016
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september2016
http://www.nxtbookMEDIA.com