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Documenting Online Personae at First Meeting with a Client

When you and your paralegal first meet with a potential client, you should consider gathering information about your clients’ online personae on your intake forms.  This may prove valuable in the investigation phase of their matters, whether it is criminal, a civil lawsuit, a family law dispute, or trust and estate matters.  It can also serve to impress upon the client the importance of designating a trusted colleague or family member to keep up with any commerce that may be taking place over the Internet.

Reflecting on the Central Coast Paralegal Association’s well-attended October MCLE presentation on Digital Afterlife (and noting that our local free paper recently did an article on the same topic), it occurred to me that this subject touches almost all our lives, if we own and operate a computer or a smart phone.

It is good practice to query a potential client about his or her online activities, including artistic works in progress.  My son worked on a screenplay for several years on a school-owned computer (in his free time).  When his term ended and he handed back the computer, his intellectual property went with it – gone forever for failure to back up the hard drive.

Assets and activities in online video games and virtual worlds can have value too.  It pays to ask.  Even if clients are not comfortable handing over all this personal information to the attorney, it’s good advice to tell them to store their passwords somewhere safe – online or in printed form.  Perhaps in a home safe or a safe deposit box so family members or a designated representative can carry on for them.  It’s just good practice.  If the information is stored only online, it will be important that someone have the necessary login information and password to access the computer.

As our clients’ lives become more complicated as a result of the ever increasing role of technology, it is important that paralegals and attorneys be aware of how to assist and advise them regarding how best to handle their digital presence.

Ellen Sheffer                                  Leslie Donahue    

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