Secrets – A Lawyer’s Tale
I keep secrets for a living. It’s been 10 years since I practiced law and now I do legal writing and research but I still remember many of those secrets. As a lawyer, you have to ask the relevant questions, and then you have to keep it all a secret. You learn the unpleasant family secrets for divorce clients, and the strategic, financial, and even trade secrets for your business clients. In almost every case, you learn what kind of a person your client really is.
Ironically, over the years some of the women whose divorces I did became good friends. They were grateful that I asked the questions that I needed to, but didn’t pry for more details about their secrets. They were grateful that I was non-judgmental and just focussed on what needed to be done to untangle a failed marriage.
Keeping client secrets is not hard as a professional. The penalties are so great if you screw up. You will be disciplined by the Law Society; you will lose your job and your reputation. But keeping all those secrets has changed me as a person. I got in the habit of not talking about my work, which is often the most important part of my day, to anyone – my family or my friends. Even a few details can reveal a client’s identity and I became very closed and careful about what I had to say.
Keeping secrets started with my clients and then extended to my whole life. Because I was a good listener and didn’t repeat confidences, people started to confide in me, even strangers. I have no duty to keep their secrets, but I do. Just because that’s who I’ve become.
Living with the secrets is a little harder. Who abused their children? Who used their children to get back at their partner? Whose parents are losing money they loaned to a child? Who is the secret shareholder in a business?
I‘ve lost friends because I knew too much information. People just assume that you are judging them. I know that it’s about them, and not about me, but the loss of the friend is still the same.
Once I did an adoption for a teenage mom who had carried her baby to term and selected parents to adopt the child. The mom was strikingly tall and very beautiful. The next time I saw her she was striding towards me in a shopping center. She took a quick look at me, turned on her heel and went off in another direction. I reminded her of her secret.
Sometimes clients keep secrets from their lawyers. I don’t think of this as lying, but simply as clients wanting to keep their secrets safe. If we want to keep a secret, we need to be prepared to tell a lie and then sometimes more lies. Once I had a client lie to me about her grandson. She said the boy was her own son. She was dying of cancer and I was drawing up her will. After she died, I learned that the boy wasn’t hers. She never adopted him, she just raised him as her own. I still give my head a shake when I think about it. Truth be told, she had no authority to appoint a guardian for him.
A few weeks ago, a very young doctor asked me if I had ever done illegal drugs. I was surprised by the question and caught myself automatically evaluating the potential implications of an answer. I am a lawyer, after all.
Secrets are a common theme in fiction. In Death at Bandit Creek, the heroine, Charlotte Fraser, has secrets – innocent secrets that she keeps to maintain her position as a schoolteacher in Bandit Creek. The soiled dove, Annie Hamilton has a secret as well, a secret that is used to manipulate her into doing things she hates. The biggest secret of all is what happened to Eileen MacArthur, the previous teacher.
All of these secrets and all of the lies told to protect them join together to create the mystery behind Death at Bandit Creek.
Amy Jo will be giving away a copy of her novella, Death at Bandit Creek, to a lucky commenter!
* The draw has been made. The winner is Mary Preston! *