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The Sounds Lawyers Make: Drip, Drip, Drip

The former editor of the New York Times, out on the hustings hawking his memoirs, just out and said what most any reporter knows and what most any lawyer indignantly denies:

Said Howell Raines, after being asked about leaks to the news media: "Almost all leakers are lawyers. That's the bottom line."

Syllogistically speaking, that doesn't quite mean that almost all lawyers are leakers, though that is indeed often the case.

But Raines makes an important point, and if it comes as a revelation to anyone, then the news reporters of the land are being just a tad too cute in the vague descriptions we use to give readers a sense of the credibility of anonymous sources. As a reader, when I read some phrase such as "a source close to the situation" or "a source involved in the negotiations" or "a source who had firsthand access to the principals," I assume--and I pretty much know--that the information came from the lawyers working on whatever case I'm reading about.

The point here is not to blow any confidential sources, but to clue readers in on the codes used in these transactions. Sure, there are plenty of stories on which confidential sources are not the lawyers, but if the piece reads like the info might be coming from the lawyers, then in the great majority of cases I've been aware of over the years, that's exactly what's going on. Sometimes, those are leaks that have been authorized by clients as part of a strategy to persuade potential jurors or sway public opinion. Often, the clients have no concept that such leaks are happening, and the lawyers are doing it because they think it will bolster their case or just because they have longstanding relationships with the reporters and they want to maintain those ties for future use, or just because everybody loves not only having a secret but telling it too. There's an awesome power in that, and that generates quite a number of leaks.

By Marc Fisher |  July 27, 2006; 7:56 AM ET
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What? You're not making this up? Lawyers would do that? Have they no conscience?

I thought it was only CIA and NSA employees with security classifications who did this sort of thing. This seems like one more good reason to find and prosecute leakers.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | July 27, 2006 8:27 AM

So if lawyers are leakers who the heck were the plumbers?

Richard M. Nixon
(from the grave)

Posted by: Richard Nixon | July 27, 2006 8:36 AM

Well, but it takes two to tango-- there's a leakee for every leaker. So, it's a little disingenuous for Raines to get snarky about lawyers.

Posted by: Matt | July 27, 2006 9:54 AM

He's not gettin' snarky about lawyers, he's saying where the information comes from. To him, leaks are good.

Posted by: h3 | July 27, 2006 2:50 PM

Doesn't this violate ethics? Especially if the leak is occurring without the client's knowledge?

Posted by: ep | July 27, 2006 3:33 PM

Lawyers have to obey the law to keep their jobs. Not only that lawyers know what the law requires, the typically law breaker (read CEO, POTUS, Attorney General, Congressman, etc.) wants to ignore that or create a rationalization to get around those requirements, which anyone with half a legal mind knows will not stand the light of day.

Lawyering is a noble profession. IMHO

Posted by: Richar | July 27, 2006 7:09 PM

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