Cover photo from issueThe new issue of Legal Business World features me in two articles on topics I’ve been focused on lately – value in legal services and whether the panel convergence process for outside law firms that hasd become popular can, in fact, be used as an innovation driver for both law departments and law firms.

And I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited about my picture being on the cover of the issue.

The issue leads off with my article, “Outside Law Firm Panel Convergence: Innovation Driver or Innovation Destroyer?” You might have read an earlier version of the article here. The article is both a challenge to law departments and law firms to walk the walk and not just talk the talk on innovation, and a guide to using the panel convergence process to drive innovation efforts. The article has been very well-received and I’m designing some service offerings to help firms and departments implement some of my recommendations.

Also in the issue is an interview with me by James Johnson (thank you, James) as part of the ClariLegal Value Series. I get the chance to talk about my insights and perspectives on what “value” in legal services means to me. I mention the large disconnect between what law firms think corporate counsel want and what corporate counsel (and their business clients) really want. Bridging that gap will be the key to success. I end the interview with my usual comment, “There is value in value.”

The rest of the issue is filled with great material, too.

Thank you to Joek Peters and Allard Winterink at Legal Business World for including me and to Cash Butler for inviting me to be part of the Value Series (which has many other great interviews).

[Link to issue]


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

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A big thank to Rob Ameerum at Legal IT Today for making me part of their LegalTech Legends interview series in the June 2019 issue. I feel quite honored to be included, especially in a global publication.

The interview gave me the chance to to reflect on my experiences and insights into technology and the practice of law over the past many year and to talk about a few topics that I don’t often get the chance to discuss.

You can read the interview by downloading a PDF of the current issue of Legal IT Today.

The issue my interview is in focuses on cybersecurity, arguably the most important day-to-day tech topic for the legal profession.



[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

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Microphone photoFrom time to time, I like to post a set of links to recent Kennedy-Mighell Report podcasts and to podcast interviews I’ve done. It’s that time again.

Let me start with a recent very fun and wide-ranging interview I did for Lora Cheadle and her Flaunt! podcast. The episode is titled “Technology, the Legal Profession and What That Means for You.”

From the episode description:

As a former lawyer, I like to think of the law as the invisible rules that hold our society together. Everything we do, from marriage, to children, to jobs, to driving, to buying a home or renting an apartment is governed by some sort of law. And whether or not we are aware of what those laws say or require, we are still impacted by them every day.

Similar to the way the internet has brought us access to more medical information than ever before, so too has it increased our access to legal information. This impacts the consumer, but it also impacts the lawyers. Now, more than ever, lawyers must embrace technology so they can serve their clients in the most effective, efficient manner. And if they can’t, then another lawyer certainly will!

Fortunately there are lawyers such as Dennis Kennedy out there who are leading the charge.

You will find the episode here.

It’s been great recently to keep running into listeners of The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast. We started the podcast in 2006 and it’s always nice to meet listeners who like what we are doing. We also love getting questions from listeners about legal technology that we can use in the show. We even have a voicemail number for you to leave your questions (anything is fair game) for us – (720) 441-6820. Or, as Tom might say “(720) 441-6820, again, that’s (720) 441-6820.”

We’ve just completed the first half of 2019. Here’s the list:

The Essential Summer Reading List: Best Beach Reads for Lawyers

Summer reading lists, how reading is changing, how that affects the reader’s experience (i.e. digital, audio, or paper).

Deep Fakes: Preparing Lawyers to Combat Counterfeits

Fake photos, fake video, and fake audio – how the deep fake phenomenon impacts the practice of law.

Taking Back Control: Managing Your Tech Addiction the Smart Way

Why a tech detox, even just for the duration of a vacation, is overkill compared to adopting a digital mindfulness approach.

A Global Legal Tech Space: Aiming for a Truly Collaborative Online Community

Ideas for bringing the legal tech community together in a collaborative online space.

Emojis and Gifs: Pictorial Language Implications in Law

Emojis and gifs and the implications of their use in the legal profession, with bonus discus on how to pronounce “gif” correctly.

What’s Your Favorite Cool Tool?

Cool tools — the tools we can’t live without and a big shout out to the great Cool Tools podcast.

Technology Competence Perspectives

A conversation with superfan and Friend of the Podcast, Debbie Foster, about her perspectives on the current state of technology in the practice of law.

The Future of Legal Tech Conferences

Historic first episode where we are both physically at the same location, we discuss the current state of legal tech conferences and the need for balance between highly innovative content and essential training content at tech conferences.

Best Practices for Measures and Metrics in Law Firms

Measures and metrics, KPIs and OKRs, and how lawyers can use them to better their practices.

Quantum Computing — How Will it Affect the Legal Profession?

What lawyers need to know about quantum computing – and how soon they need to know it.

Exploring the Definition of “Legal Technology”

Deciphering the meanings of “legal technology” in 2019 – harder to do than you might expect.

Resolutions for Tech Improvement in 2019

Our fearless technology and podcast resolutions for 2019.

That’s 2019 so far. More great shows coming up in the second half of 2019. Listen to the podcast from the Legal Talk Network site or in your favorite podcast listening program or service. There are convenient links to podcasting tools in the left column of the podcast’s homepage.

We so enjoy producing the podcast and hope you find it useful and entertaining. If you have feedback, questions for us to answer on the show, or episode ideas, let us know by messaging either of us on LinkedIn or any of our other communication channels.

Photo by Tommy Lopez from Pexels


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

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When I was at Mastercard, I often had times when I had many projects in flight. A single, vertical to do list would have been too overwhelming for me.

I came up with the idea for a to do list template organized by categories and contexts and set out as a grid. That not only let me see everything broken up into chunks, but it also allowed me pick and choose what I wanted to work on at any given time of the day. I felt less overwhelmption and more control of my days. Made a big difference for me.

I found a copy of the template recently and decided I’d post it to this blog. If it seems like it could be helpful to you, please go ahead and use it. You might also modify the concept and adjust the number of squares on the grid or the categories to better fit what you need.

I will say that I would have rather been able to use Omnifocus, which I used and still use for my personal to dos, at work, but that was not an option.

Download (or Print) To Do List Grid Template (PDF)


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

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In the latter part of 2018, Gabe Teninbaum tweeted that he had decided to make his personal idea journal available to the public. I commented that I thought that was a cool idea. He encouraged me to do the same. Matt Homann also concurred. I’ve always liked Matt’s “idea garage sale” posts making available ideas he has lying around but isn’t using.

With great rapidity, only six months or so later, I have posted my public idea journal, which, not surprisingly, I have decided to call “DennisKennedy,Ideajournal.” I hope someone does not turn .ideajournal into a TLD so I won’t have to change it in the future or buy the domain name.

I’ve included old and new ideas, and ideas I plan to use and ideas that I probably will not use.

How it Works:

The ideas are kept in a Google Doc here. I’ll add ideas and supplement existing ideas from time to time.

You may view the ideas and comment on them, but you will not be allowed to edit them.

I’m trying to make them very easy for people to use, as long as they attribute the ideas to me. I’ve applied a Creative Commons license to facilitate that goal.

As a longtime intellectual property licensing lawyer, I have added some terms about allowing me to use the ideas in your comments and about you not keeping me from using my own ideas that you have used, so I alert you to that. If you don’t intend for ideas in your comments to be seen or used by me or others, don’t submit them. Also, other readers will be able to see your comments so use discretion about revealing proprietary or confidential information (i.e., don’t do it).

I’ll look at the Google Doc from time to time, but do not expect an immediate or even a prompt response from me.

Let me know what you think about this experiment or if you have any questions or issues with access.

Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

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Now available:

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This post is another part of a continuing series of posts I’ll be doing over the next month or so that I’m calling DennisKennedy.Next. You can find others under that tag on this blog. I’ve previously posted A New Approach to Publishing My Articles, My New Approach to Speaking and Allison Shields and I Are Writing a New LinkedIn Book.

I’ve taken some time after leaving Mastercard and relocating to Ann Arbor to regroup, rethink, and refocus. I’ve talked to many people, done a lot of reading and study, and learned much from teaching two classes at Michigan State University’s College of Law. My wife and daughter have called it my “gap year.” After finishing this past semester, I’m ready to launch some new things this summer. Hence, DennisKennedy.Next.

In part, this series of posts is a way to reply to the many people who have been asking me what I’ll be doing next. To one’s surprise, I’m sure, fully retiring was never in the cards for me. The blueprint laid out in David Corbett’s Portfolio Life was always in my mind.

So many of my friends have told me that one piece of what I need to be doing is something that calls to me and both fits and moves me. Others call this their “passion project.” That’s a good term.

The Kennedy Idea Propulsion Center (more on the origin of the name in a minute) will be my passion project. In 3 – 5 years, I expect that most of my time will be spent on that project.

In a few ways, I went back to my childhood on this one. Let me explain.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landing, I found myself not just excited about that, but remembering my immersion into everything about the NASA space program and the Apollo 11 mission. I remember vividly what was happening when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And I know that I’ll be outside on this July 20 at 10:56 PM Eastern looking up at the moon, remember that evening fifty years ago.

We recently watched a documentary on the Apollo 8 mission (highly recommended). In several scenes, people mentioned the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I’ve always loved the sound of that name. I also enjoyed the time I spent working with the Mastercard Labs team. When I came up with a new name for my LLC, many of the candidates had the name “Laboratory” in them, until I decided on the much more prosaic, descriptive, and probably more apt, Dennis Kennedy Advisory Services LLC.

From the JPL vision:

At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality.

My friends know that, if you ever get me to open up on the topic, I’ll say that I’d like to one day work at or have my own think tank. This, too, I realize comes from my early years. The phrase grabbed me from the first time I heard about it or read about it.

I love the idea of being paid to think, help bring ideas to life, be a “Yoda,” do my own research, collaborate on big projects, and do the things we all imagine think tanks do.

About ten years or so ago, I was at an event and got the chance to talk with the amazing Dave Gray, founder of Xplane, and the topic of my think tank came up. Dave said, “if you got $500,000 to start it now, what would it look like?” I stammered and stumbled and realized that ideas are one thing, but bringing them into action is something far different. And that a think tank idea would take some serious, well, thinking.

My recent flash of inspiration was putting those two notions together. One morning, I found the phrase “idea propulsion center” in my brain. A quick Google search showed that the phrase had never been used. “The Kennedy Idea Propulsion Center” was a short step from there.

I’m know for generating many ideas, seeing things in new ways, and for helping people get ideas out of their heads and into the real world to at least experiment with. I’m a bit less good at doing that with my own ideas, but usually people need help or a guide.

I did some quick sanity check testing. My Ann Arbor buddy Cash Butler at ClariLegal called me and I ran it by him. He thought I needed a tagline and suggested something about “The New IP.” I was dubious, but saw a bit of potential in “The New IP – not intellectual property, idea propulsion.” Maybe. A bit.

“Idea propulsion” pulls some key notions I care about together. Ideas, of course. More important, however, velocity, direction, and movement. Getting ideas from being trapped in your mind to out in the world working. Taking brainstorming results and turning them into prototypes, for example.

Laboratory, of course, brings in the notion of experimentation, testing, feedback, recalibrating, and the like.

I decided there was no point overthinking this anymore. I wanted to get it out into the world.

The final piece for me comes from my own history on the web and blogging. If you want to create something, you just do it and announce it. That was the story of my original webpage in 1995. Another examples was when I decided that there should be annual legal blogging awards and, seeing none, I simply announced my own Blawggies. People paid attention to them for the twelve years I did them. And it was just me putting my opinions out there for people to see and react to.

So, with this post, the Kennedy Idea Propulsion Laboratory (“KIPL”) comes into existence. I’ll work out all of the details, probably in collaboration with many others.

As I said, I expect that this “passion project” will become the vehicle that I’ll be putting most of my time into in about 3 – 5 years. Right now, it’s just me. I’ll put my custom consulting projects (watch for more details soon on Legal Innovation as a Service, which will be a separate thing), research, education writing and projects, advisory board work, access to justice, and similar efforts under the KIPL umbrella. And probably a few more surprises. I want it to be as open and free-flowing as my own interests are.

As I learned from my conversation with Dave Gray, there are plenty of details to work out.

  • Will it be for-profit or not-for-profit? It seems so much easier now to be a simple for-profit entity, but I need to learn if I then making it very difficult later to turn into a non-profit.
  • Do I bootstrap this, as in my inclination, or investigate interest in funding, sponsorship and investment?
  • Do I stay completely independent or do I discuss affiliation with law firms, universities, institutions, legal vendors or others?
  • And much more.

A hat tip, as always, to Matt Homann, who will recognize a little bit of LexThink in this.

And, with that, the Kennedy Idea Propulsion Center is born. Your comments are welcomed. I’ve also put up a survey with questions where you can provide me with a little feedback.


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

DennisKennedy.Blog is now part of the LexBlog network.


Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now available:

The second edition of The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell.

This post will probably end up being a part of a series of posts that I think of as “DennisKennedy.Next.”

The law school semester has ended and now ready to launch some of the new things I’ll be doing going forward. Expect to see more on that in the next month or so.

I’ve posted about my new approach to writing that I call #blogfirst. And I’ve posted about the new LinkedIn book Allison Shields and I are working on.

In this post, I turn to speaking.

First, a confession. I love speaking and I’m good at it.

Although I’ve done hundreds of presentations over the years, plus webinars and, of course, The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast, I’ve never had a plan or strategy about what I’m doing. If it sounded fun, I was likely to take the opportunity.

Over the last six months or so, I’ve had the chance to rethink what I’ve been doing and look at ways to direct those things to what I want to be doing. Speaking was the hardest one of these for me to come to terms with. Did I mention that I love speaking?

Over the weekend, I got the chance to present on digital estate planning at the 59th Annual Institute on Continuing Legal Education’s Probate and Estate Planning Institute. My friend, Jeff Kirkey, at ICLE talked me into it. I had a great time and the feedback was very positive. And there were several hundred people in the audience.

I also have been having an email conversation about speaking with Gabe Teninbaum and Jason Moyse over the last few days.

It also helped me finalize my new approach to speaking, which is:

1. Focus on Paid Speaking on Topics that Fit with What I’m Doing. No surprise here. I simply want to (further) professionalize the speaking I do. I’ve picked six topics where my interest is very high, there are few others who can cover the same topics as I do, and where I feel my perspectives and insights are uniquely helpful to an audience. Those topics are:

  • Legal Tech Trends – From Knowledge to Action – Building Bridges to Your Future(s)
  • A Legal Innovation Framework and Playbook
  • Panel Convergence – Innovation Driver or Innovation Destroyer
  • Productizing Legal Services: Delivering Value and Making Money While You Sleep
  • The 21st Century Platform Lawyer – Beyond the Transactional Lawyer
  • Building a Digital Estate Planning Practice Group

My new speaking page goes into more detail that I do here. I’ll, of course, consider customized engagements, which will be, well, customized and negotiated. Pretty straightforward.

2. Phasing Out of CLE Speaking. I have such mixed emotions on this, but the determining factor is that I’ve been doing CLE presentations for nearly 25 years. It’s been a great run, but . . .

  • Especially after my years at Mastercard, there is not a great fit between where my interests are and the interests of the typical CLE audience
  • It feels like it’s time to turn the CLE speaking I might do over to younger and diverse speakers
  • I feel like I’m blocking opportunities for people wanting to get started in CLE speaking
  • I think I have better ways to help bar associations than speaking

I use the term “phase out” for a reason. I still have some things on the calendar and have no doubt that I will be talked into doing a few presentations, especially here in Michigan. However, the timing seems right on this move.

If I am not able to speak at your CLE event, I generally can recommend a few excellent speakers for you, especially women and diversity speakers.

3. Commitment to Diversity. This point is the big one. For quite a few years, I’ve had the goal to speak only on diverse panels and to otherwise promote speaker diversity. People who know me know that I make it a point of suggesting several women speakers when I cannot take an opportunity. The “no more manels” goal is one that is important to me, and it pains me when I find myself on all-male panel or when an event has a small number of women and diverse speakers. In some cases, especially when I commit to a program early or there are late speaker replacements, that is not practically possible. I try to do my best, but want to do more.

In all cases, whether or not I am speaking at the event, I am happy to recommend diverse speakers from my extensive set of speaker contacts, which I intend to develop further. I recommend the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s Women of Legal Tech list as a great place to find excellent women speakers on legal technology topics.

I’m also talking with the Michigan Bar about how I can help them find and develop the next generation of diverse CLE speakers.

I’d like help and comments on this, but I have been trying to think of a way that I can turn over some of my traditional topics to diverse speakers and help prepare and promote them for speaking opportunities. I have no idea how to price that, what it might look like, or whether there is any interest. I can definitely say that the opportunity to become a known local expert speaker on digital estate planning, cybersecurity, technology competence, and other topics is there for the taking for some new speakers.

And that’s the new approach for more details, see my speaking page. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and, of course, also welcome your invitations under section 1 above.


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

DennisKennedy.Blog is now part of the LexBlog network.


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Now available:

The second edition of The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell.

We’ve reached the point where I feel it’s time that I can say that Allison and I are busily at work on a new book on LinkedIn. We’re planning for it to be available on Amazon in early summer. The working title is “Making LinkedIn Work for You: The Legal Professional’s Handbook.”

Our earlier book, LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers, had two successful editions, but is now out of print. We decided to go a new direction rather than simply do a third edition.

In the new book, we move away from the “lessons” format and concentrate on the practical LinkedIn strategies we are both known for and ways to take your LinkedIn game up a level or two. We will also include answers to many of the frequently asked questions we get in our presentations about LinkedIn.

We made a conscious decision to keep the book targeted at the legal industry, but are expanding the focus beyond just “lawyers.” We’ve had many readers tell us that the book is great for those outside the legal industry, but for marketing and content reasons (e.g., a chapter on legal ethics), this book will keep the legal focus. If we find sufficient interest, we might write a broader “professional services” version in the future.

Most important for me (and I hope for you), we’re going to a much lower price point for this book than the price point for our earlier book. We are also focusing on the ebook version.

You’ll hear more about the book, availability, pricing, opportunities to review it, and more as we get closer to the launch date. Watch for some Survey Monkey polls and other things. If you already know that you want to review the book, let us know with some information about your audience and reach, and we can put you on the list.


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

DennisKennedy.Blog is now part of the LexBlog network.


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Now available:

The second edition of The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell.

What a great spring semester I just finished at Michigan State University College of Law! I taught a class called Delivering Legal Services that covered design thinking, process improvement, and much more, with a great group of creative and thoughtful students.

I’ve gotten the papers graded and the final grades turned in. I’m not a fan of the Excel spreadsheets used to curve grades, because I always want to give better grades than I’m allowed when students work hard.

I hope that some, perhaps many, of these students will get the chance at some point in their careers to develop and implement the ideas they put together in this class. thank them for making it a great semester. I learned a lot.

A couple of other things happened in connection with the class this semester. One was that I got to be a judge for the MSULaw social media contest. Lots of great results from the finalists from their use of social media. I was so impressed that I offered to give them some coaching in addition to their very nice monetary prizes.

The big story for me this semester was that I got to meet Chief Justice Bridget McCormack through a Twitter conversation about my feeling that maybe the Michigan requirement that lawyers be sworn in in person might be a place where videoconferencing could be considered. Her thoughtful comments about being open to that possibility and the value she places on the swearing-in ceremony got some attention, as did my invitation to her to speak to my class, which she accepted, to the delight of students.

That invitation got expanded a bit and the Chief Justice spoke to and did a long Q&A session with students on innovation, access to justice and other issues. Here’s a photo of the Chief Justice, Carla Reyes, the head of LegalRnD, and me at that event.

And, last week, I took the Chief Justice up on her invitation to be sworn in by her at the Michigan Supreme Court. It was impressive, fun, and a great family event as my wife, daughter, and Dad were all able to be there.

Here’s the photo my wife took fo three generations of Kennedys with the Chief Justice.

All in all, a great semester that will be hard to top next fall – but I have some ideas.

And, to all my friends who kept telling me that I’d love being a professor . . . I’m willing to admit that you might be on to something.


[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

DennisKennedy.Blog is now part of the LexBlog network.

Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now available:

The second edition of The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell.

[NOTE: I wrote the first version of this article in 2010. The article was one of the earliest practical articles on digital estate planning and, in its own way, was influential. It is also one of many of my articles that can no longer be found on the web because of publisher website issues. As part of my effort to combat that sad state of affairs, I’m trying to update and repost some of those articles on this blog. I call that effort #blogfirst. In this case, I recently updated it for use in CLE materials for my upcoming presentation on digital estate planning at the 59th Annual ICLE Probate & Estate Planning Institute in Michigan and decided to post in now. I’m quite fond of this article and many people have found it helpful. I hope you will too.]

Andy Olmsted was a rare individual, in no small part because he is one of the few who thought carefully about what would happen to his online presence when they die. A popular blogger, Olmsted wrote a post before he left for service in Iraq along with instructions for his survivors to post it to his blog in the event he was killed in action. Unfortunately, it had to be posted. I read the post on the day it appeared in 2008, and I re-read it when I prepared to write this article. It remains for me one of the most moving posts in the history of blogging (

The beautiful thing is that his family has kept that post available on the Internet to this day. The sad thing is that this permanence is becoming an all-to-rare exception.

We are gradually, and grudgingly, learning that our online presence can outlive our physical presence and possibly even take on a life of its own. As we begin to move more of our activities – financial, social, work, leisure, creative – onto the Internet, the questions about what happens to our online presence and how we best prepare to handle that have begun to grow in quantity and complexity.

As the Internet started to become popular, we realized that a person’s Internet presence could raise a few important issues in the event of death or incapacity. For, example, what would happen to an email account? Who could access emails? Were there online financial or other accounts?

In earlier days, our online presence was just a small part of our “digital estate.” We leave a wealth of information on our computers. Our “digital estates” have begun to raise a number of complex issues and have revealed new digital questions and new digital assets, such as cryptocurrencies.

At the root of many of these issues we find the question of passwords. In simplest terms, how can you get on to someone’s computer to do anything if you don’t have passwords?

Once you logged into computer, you might well confront a different set of passwords for email and other online accounts. In a relatively small number of cases a few years ago, someone might have a website or other Internet vehicles, like listservs or discussion groups. Issues might include deciding whether and how to notify audience and friends of a death, tracking down financial accounts, and determining how to shut down a website.

As difficult as those issues could be a few years ago, they can seem simple and trivial in comparison to the myriad of issues we see today, especially in the online world.

Examples include:

•  Multiple computers, flash drives, external hard drives, iPods, smartphones, tablet devices.

•  Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, email accounts, online backup accounts, document sharing and collaboration accounts.

•  Photos on Flickr, documents in Google Docs, videos on YouTube, social media and blog posts, comments and other data.

•  Online bank and investment accounts, payment information, rewards accounts, airline, hotel and other accounts, online medical information, subscriptions of all kinds.

•  A myriad of online shopping accounts that might hold credit card information, rewards, benefits, subscriptions and memberships, and many “web 2.0” services.

•  Cryptocurrencies, blockchains, and new types of digital property.

It’s difficult to know where our survivors would start, other than that they would have the sense of being overwhelmed. Planning for digital assets is becoming part of good estate planning and succession planning.

Basic Planning Concepts.

Conceptually, the same principles apply to planning for our digital assets after our demise as do to our real-world assets. Yet, handling digital assets can quickly get quite complicated. Most of us keep important papers, necessary information, and valuable assets in safe places. These places are usually revealed to a few trusted people who we hope also survive us. On occasion, however, family members will be surprised to find unknown accounts, collections or even boxes or cash. However, it usually takes a simple conversation, a page or two of notes, and pointing loved ones to the file cabinet or box where the important stuff is kept to handle 90% of the issues. There are also a number of inexpensive notebooks available these days where you can collect, record, and preserve in one place all your account numbers, password

The same principles apply in the digital world as do in the real world, but making arrangements for digital assets can be an order of magnitude more difficult than making arrangements in the real world.

Take a moment to do a simple exercise. Can you quickly and easily find all the valuable documents and files on your computers? Or, as is likely, are they scattered among many folders, several computers, flash drives and backup CDs, DVDs, tapes, iTunes, and a number of online accounts and services? How easy will it be for someone to sit down at your computer and find everything they need, especially if it’s now a struggle for you (the only one who will actually understand your system of organization) to do that?

Add to that the simple fact that establishing a succession plan works against every recommendation for good security practices. Security experts want to you create strong passwords, use different ones for different accounts, and to change them frequently. How many times have you heard or read that you should never ever write down passwords and keep them in a place that a burglar or other bad actor can find easily?

Think about it. If you do a great job on security, you all but guarantee no one can get easy and timely access to your digital world when the time comes.

Here’s another thought experiment: what if you use a thumbprint scanner or other biometric device for access to your computer? What happens when you die? Enhanced security techniques like multi-factor authentication (you need a password and a security key fob or smartphone) will make access even harder than it is now. Also, many experts recommend using a password management program that generates random, strong, lengthy passwords automatically.

In addition, it is not a great idea for security reasons to create directories, folders or documents on your computer that are named “Passwords,” “Important Financial Stuff,” or “Account Information” in case someone breaks into your computer system or steals your computer.

Although you will occasionally read articles suggesting that you cover your digital assets explicitly in your will or trust or even create a unique document to cover your digital assets, the fact is that most of us do not get around to doing that. Our digital world and our digital assets change on a regular basis. Almost by definition, any document that we create will be out of date when the time comes to use it.

A Simple Five-step Plan to Manage Your Digital Estate.

While I doubt that any of us will be able to put together a foolproof and perfect plan for our digital assets and affairs, the fact is that most of leave our real-world assets and affairs in less than perfect order. However, we at least try to make things easier for our survivors who have to handle our real-world estate. The best we can do is to put things in order as well as we can, pick the right people to handle them, and leave reasonably clear instructions. I suggest that we want to try to do the same things for our digital estates.

Toward that end, I want to recommend a very simple five-step plan that you can start on today and then revisit from time to time. In most cases, these steps have real world analogies and I encourage you to think in those terms. Build on what you know.

Step 1. Inventory Your Digital Assets. I spent a large part of my early legal career as an estate planning lawyer. In the case of either death or incapacity, the first important step is to track down and identify all of the assets, liabilities and other concerns that must be addressed. Once an inventory is created, you can move forward with marshaling and collecting assets, identifying outstanding liabilities and paying them in a timely fashion, and dealing with outstanding issues, such as turning off utilities, canceling credit cards, arranging for storage or disposal, and the like.

In the real world, your family and your designated successors (personal representative of your estate, trustee of your trust, or attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney) will be aided immensely by any list of assets and liabilities that you can prepare for them and leave in a place that is easy for them to obtain.

In your digital world, you also want to help your successors by creating an inventory. The more detailed and accurate the better, of course, but even a small start can be of help.

Here are some of the things I’d suggest that you inventory:

1. Hardware. Inventorying your hardware and the data contained in each item seems like an easier project that it actually will be. I suggest that you create a list of your hardware with a summary overview of what data is on it. Creating the inventory is likely to be an eye-opener for you. You are likely to find that you have important information not only on the computer system you use every day, but also on many other computers. Many of us have at least one laptop and one or more desktop computers, as well as smartphones and tablet devices, perhaps all syncing to “cloud” storage on the Internet. Many people keep copies of vital information on their work computers. Where do you back up information? You might have many USB flash drives, USB hard drives, backup CDs or DVDs. There might be important pictures still on digital cameras and even information on iPods, smartphones, tablets and other devices.

2. Software. Do you use Quicken or another financial program? What income tax preparation programs do you use? Do you create spreadsheets or Word documents with important financial information? If you blog or use social media, are there authoring programs that someone would need to use to post news to your blog, Twitter or other social media accounts?

3. File Structures. Your inventory should sketch out the main folders and places where you keep personal, financial and client files and documents. For someone like me, I also have audio and video of presentations and podcasts that I’d want someone to be able to locate and deal with. You might have important collections of family photos or videos or work in progress.

4. Online Presence. Create a list of your website(s), blog(s), Facebook and other social media accounts, online backup sites, online sites where you store documents, photos or other files, and listservs, groups or other sites you belong to. The use of social media has exploded in the past few years. Facebook alone has more than a billion users.

5. Online Accounts. Amazon and other shopping sites make it easy for you to create accounts and include credit card information. You might also have online access to bank and investment accounts. In fact, in many cases, you might no longer be receiving paper statements for accounts. If you don’t identify these accounts, it will be difficult for your successors to even know that they exist because there simply will be no paper trail. Also, make a list of all the email accounts you have and use. Most of us have several email accounts these days.

6. Work Information. Lawyers might have access to client sites, collaboration sites, online document repositories or other information that no one else knows about. Similarly, they might have access to software, online tools or online databases that someone taking over their work will need to have. In some firms, a lawyer might have important network passwords, backup media or other digital assets the existence or value of which is not realized until they are gone.

At this point, you really want to gather and collect as much information as you can for your inventory. You can work on organizing and prioritizing it later.

Step 2. Identify Appropriate Help. In our estate plans, we typically name a surviving spouse or adult child, especially one with financial savvy, as a personal representative or trustee. That person, however, might well be the worst possible choice for dealing with our digital assets, especially if they are not computer savvy. We also recommend appropriate lawyers, accountants and financial planners to assist our survivors with our financial affairs after our deaths.

You will want to give serious thought to who should be looking into your digital assets on your demise and give thought to naming them in an official capacity in some cases or clearly identifying as “go to” people in other cases. Are there ways you can make things easier for your survivors?

Here’s a simple exercise to help you. Imagine that you have died or are incapacitated. Who do you want to turn on your computer to find out and deal with what’s there? Let them know that and let others know that. If the IT person in your office could assist your surviving spouse, then make it clear that she should be engaged to help. A child you might not want making financial decisions might be just the one you want going through your digital world.

I also suggest talking to your estate planning lawyer to see if dealing with your computers and digital assets is something he or she has expertise with.

Step 3. Provide for Access. While we are all cautioned never to write down passwords and PIN numbers, the simple fact is that, if we do not do that and keep them in a safe place where they can be found at an appropriate time, no one will be able to access our computers and accounts. This not only can cause delay, frustration and inconvenience, but it can mean today that our best friends scattered around the country and world might well find out about our demise weeks after a funeral that they would have undoubtedly wanted to attend.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, good security means that your passwords are a moving target because you should be changing them on a regular basis. I still think it’s useful to keep a list of passwords in a safe deposit box or other safe place that someone knows about. My old law firm routinely keeps important personal documents of its clients in a vault. Keeping a document with your passwords and other online account information with the other important documents will help your survivors. Another approach might be to tell your lawyer where the password list is kept and let them tell your survivors at the appropriate time so that it can be located. If you use password management software (and everyone should), you will want to let people know and make sure that the password for that program (which is necessary to get the passwords for other accounts) can be located.

Do not underestimate the difficulties that can arise from passwords. It is possible that some of us now have hundreds of passworded accounts. In most cases, you should be able to eventually get access to accounts with a death certificate and appropriate documentation, but you cannot assume that will be the case. Many online accounts have initiated their own procedures and you will need to check the terms of use for each service, some of which might surprise you or pose some difficulties. That should provide an alternative to the morbid or grisly ideas you might have had when I mentioned the thumbprint scanner issue earlier in this article.

Keep in mind that security continues to evolve. Many people use thumb prints or facial recognition instead a password, especially on smartphones. The current state-of-the-art in security – multi-factor authentication – often requires that you have both a password and a device (two factors), such as a smartphone to which a code can be sent for use. In other cases, you might need to know answers to personal security questions. Biometric methods raise their own sets of issues.

Step 4. Leave Instructions. I started with the story of Andy Olmsted because it is a perfect example of someone who knew what he wanted to happen and gave instructions for that to happen. Most of us will not reach a point where we will sit down and provide detailed instructions unless we face what I used to call when I did estate planning a “focusing event” – both spouses flying on the same plane, going into combat, terminal illness or the like.

There are a number of areas where your survivors would appreciate instructions:

•  Notifications. Many of us now have Facebook “friends,” LinkedIn “connections,” Twitter “followers,” and others we communicate with on a regular basis. If we have a blog or website, we might have people who read our words or visit our sites on a regular basis. If we want those people notified, we need not only to make our wishes clear, but to provide access to the tools and give instructions so that can happen. Think about Andy Olmsted’s example. He wrote the post, but he had to let someone know that it existed, how to access his blog, how to post it to his blog, and how someone should respond to the comments the post would receive. There are instances now of survivors who continue to update Facebook accounts and provide other information online after someone dies.

•  Continuing or Closing Sites. In my case, I have a website that’s been around for almost twenty years and a blog with more than ten years of posts. I’m not sure that I really want that to disappear. It would still be a valuable resource if I were gone. If you want a site to continue, you will want to give instructions as to how that might occur (e.g., preserve what’s there or perhaps have someone take it over and continue it). Even for sites or accounts that you want closed, you might want to be sure that a copy is made and kept, and that pictures, audio or video are saved. Many people have several active social media accounts that could be used to notify friends and provide funeral and other information.

•  Realizing Value. Let’s face it, none of us are likely to realize the post-death financial revenues of Graceland and the Elvis Presley estate. However, simply shutting down sites might cut off potential revenue streams from e-books or other revenue-producing items. In the case of popular blogs, photography sites or online videos, your estate might be able to realize income from licensing, creating a book or taking other steps to “monetize” content. In some cases, you might have already started some of those projects.

•  “Do Not Delete” Items. People now routinely digitize all kinds of important document, photos and video. For example, you might have scanned historical family pictures or family videos, or have a folder with the novel or screenplay you’ve been working on. If you intend that they be passed on, make sure that they are identified and not lost when a hard drive is deleted.

•  “Bequeathed” Information. As mentioned above, you might be keeping family, business or other information that should be made available to specific people or even donated to a university or other archive. Documents containing instructions about collections, disposing of property, articles or stories to be published, and even personal guidance to family members need to be maintained in a way they can be located and made available to others. Consider again Andy Olmsted’s approach.

Step 5. Give Appropriate Authority. For some of us, and this might become more the case as time goes on, it makes sense to designate specific knowledgeable people and provide them with the appropriate authority to manage our digital assets. It might make sense to designate co-attorneys-in-fact, so-executors, or co-Trustees where one is specifically tasked with taking the responsibility for our digital assets and affairs. Finding estate planning lawyers who are experienced and knowledgeable in “digital estates” will be essential in certain cases. In addition, you might look into ways that your online accounts might permit you to designate others to act on your behalf or get added to your accounts. Especially in the cases of people who are not married or in a state where domestic partnerships would help, finding ways to give exactly the people you want to manage your digital affairs will be very important. I expect to see this area continuing to evolve, with many areas of uncertainty. Note that in many states, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act has been implemented in some form to help deal with digital access issues.

Tips for Providing Assistance after the Death of Another.

It’s also possible that either as a survivor or as a lawyer, you might find yourself in a position where you need to handle someone’s digital affairs. I have a few tips.

•  Find knowledgeable technical and legal help.

•  In the case of a death, try to get to contact lists, email accounts and social media accounts to notify friends who the deceased would want to be notified.

•  Change all passwords as soon as possible. Cybersecurity might be even more important after someone has died than while they are alive.

•  Try to understand the totality of the person’s online presence and identify some of the people that interact with most for assistance, especially in the social media platforms.

•  Do not start closing accounts, shutting down hosting and email or taking other drastic steps until you have a good sense of what is out there and what you are ultimately going to do with it. Keeping a website up for a year or more will not be expensive. Shutting it down too early and losing valuable data could be quite expensive.

•  Be slow to delete, but when you delete or dispose of computers and drives, delete them in accordance with forensic standards so data cannot be retrieved from them by others.

•  Spend $100 on an external USB hard drive and make a copy of all hard drives, flash drives and other data and keep them in one safe place. Once you start to go through the data, you can keep another drive with the “good stuff.”

•  Make copies of websites and other online accounts.

•  Locate all the financial information and client records as soon as possible and aggregate and isolate them.

•  Remove credit card information from shopping accounts.

•  Determine whether there is ownership of cryptocurrency, where it is kept (in some cases, could be on a USB drive on a keychain – seriously, I’ve met people who do that), and whether there is a way to access it and transfer it.

•  Err on the side of keeping email, documents and photographs for family members.

Start Thinking About Your Digital Estate Plan Today.

The issues of what death means in the digital world has been with us for many years. It really started to come to public attention with the Iraq war, especially in terms of access/ownership of email accounts and getting to online banking and other accounts by survivors of soldiers killed in action. Today, our lifetime digital presence has grown exponentially and the issues involved in handling our digital assets and affairs have also grown dramatically. If you take time to work on the five-step plan suggest by this article, ideally in connection with updating your estate plan, you’ll help make things easier for your survivors and improve that the chance that your wishes are followed. Read Olmsted’s blog post, dry your eyes, and start on your plan today.

#digitalestateplanning #estate planning #digitalassets

Photo by from Pexels

An earlier edited version of this article appeared in the March 2010 issue of the Law Practice Today as “Estate Planning for Your Digital Assets.”  It is been significantly updated in this version, but most of the basic principles have not changed during that time.


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