Can a Lawyer Write a Book About a Client?
Sometimes a client's story will be so interesting you'll think to yourself that it would make a great book or movie. However, before you go penning your client's story, you might want to consult a lawyer. Good thing you know one.
While your own life story might be now intertwined with your more interesting client's life story, before you publish anything, you better get permission from your client(s) and consult your state bar's ethics rules. Nearly a full year after getting disbarred for writing it, an attorney is now being sued by the client subject of their tell-all book.
License to Tell
Learn from Lawrence Nurmi's mistakes. For the most part, if you are writing about a past client, there's more than just the right of publicity to be concerned about. If writing about a matter that can still be appealed, like a criminal conviction, or if you want to include attorney-client privileged information, getting written permission is critical if you want to keep your law license and not get sued. Nurmi actually agreed to relinquish his license once the bar got involved.
In the civil suit against Nurmi, it is also alleged that his behavior during representation was rather unbecoming. His former client alleges that he used her nude photos as his computer screen saver.
How to Get Permission
While one might think that Nurmi and his former client would not want to talk ever again, the lawsuit suggests money might change things. At the conclusion of an interesting representation, actually offering to buy, license, or pay a royalty for your client's story rights is generally permissible and looked upon more favorably than asking without offering up cash. Though, it can be a bit trickier if there is an outstanding balance for fees.
How to Get Around Permission
Changing names and other factual details can sometimes be enough to get around liability issues, but sometimes it just isn't possible. Only writing about info in the public record is another potential, albeit risky, way around permission.
Even if you have a foolproof way around it, you might want to think twice if you plan on continuing to practice. Writing a book might be good for marketing purposes. But being known as the lawyer that writes tell-all books about their clients isn't likely to build a reputation for being able to keep a secret.
- Lawyers: Are You Talking Too Loudly in Public? (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- 5 Tips to Help You Avoid Common Attorney Ethics Pitfalls (FindLaw's Strategist)
- 'Eat This, Not That' of Social Media Ethics for Law Firms (FindLaw's Strategist)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.