We in Wisconsin are in the middle of the State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference, right here in Milwaukee. The venue is a couple of blocks from my office so I’ve been and will be popping out.
So far, I’ve seen a few of my clients who I’ve never met in person before—I caught their name tag out of the corner of my eye, or recognized their voice from phone calls. I did not stop and approach them. I waited for them to approach me. If they didn’t, we didn’t talk at all.
Why? This isn’t because I’m some aloof diva. It’s because I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m “outing” them as a client. Now, some of my lawyer clients are happy to publicly announce that I’ve worked with them. (“Stacie kept me out of the hoosegow!” was one fun refrain at a party.) But others don’t want to acknowledge we’ve ever met, for any reason, and that’s fine too.
The mere fact that someone is or has been a client is “information relating to representation” and Wisconsin’s interpretation of this Rule protects client identity from disclosure absent implied authorization to carry out representation, or informed consent, or some exceptions that don’t apply to discussion at a bar conference. Now, no reasonable interpretation of the Rule would prohibit merely saying “hi’“ to someone—if you know me, you know I have a hard time shutting up am chatty and will talk to just about everyone if the circumstances permit. (Yes, I sometimes talk to strangers in elevators, or in line at the bank, sorry.) The mere fact that we are talking should not mean anything to anyone else.
Still, I understand that not everybody is happy to be talking to me and would prefer to stay away. I don’t want to ambush anyone. But please—feel free to ambush me! I’m not going to talk about your matter with you at the Bar Conference, even if you want me to (that’s probably the least private location I could think of) but I’m happy to say hello.