Kevin speaking with Erin Levine, CEO and Founder of Hello Divorce, on making the divorce process both easier and more affordable through her company’s web-based application. Erine was also a guest presenter at this year’s Clio Cloud Conference, speaking on “The Win-Win Legal Services Model”.


Kevin: Who am I talking with?

Erin Levine: Erin Levine

Kevin: Who is Erin Levine?

Erin: I’m the managing attorney of Levine family law group and the CEO and founder of hello divorce.

Kevin: Where are you from? Where’s Levine Family Law Group)?

Erin Levine: It’s in Oakland, California.

Kevin: Question: So you didn’t have so far to go.

Erin: No, in fact, I was in San Diego just a few weeks ago with my family and to take the kids to Legoland. I love being here. I was so excited when I heard that it would be here.

Kevin: How many kids do you have?

Erin: Two

Kevin: Oh that’s not so bad.

Erin: Well, they’re little. They’re wonderful. But this is kind of a nice break.

Kevin: I have five total (laughs). That’s the reason I ask. They’re older though. I

Erin: Five kids!?

Kevin: They’re older though. It goes by fast.

Erin:I can’t even imagine. I mean two (kids) feels like ten (kids) so…

Kevin: Like Guy Kawasaki always said when you go from two to three then you start playing a zone. And that’s when it all changes. It’s a whole new game.

Erin: Wow, that’s impressive (laughs).

Kevin: So in addition to, you know, practicing family law, you have Hello Divorce, what is it?

Erin: Hello Divorce is a web platform that offers legal, health and wellness supports people who are going through divorce. So it’s a web app. Well, let me back up a minute. It’s kind of in between legal zoom or rocket lawyer and a full fledged law firm. So I had done a survey of hundreds of people who were either just starting the divorce or had just finished their divorce and asked them what they needed or what they wanted or what could have been better. And as it turns out, most of them really wanted technology. They wanted the opportunity to do things on their own, but they also wanted a helping hand if they needed it.So our app not only takes people through the divorce process, but if at any time they need some extra help, they can click and access on demand lawyers.

Kevin: So, and (does) the “on-demand lawyer” mean different lawyers around the country or in California? Where’s it being used?

Erin: Yea, we’re partnering with different firms, because hello divorce itself can’t offer the legal advice right now. We tested it in California with my firm, and some contract attorneys that work with my firm. We wanted to make sure that it was a sustainable option for lawyers, we wanted to prove that lawyers would actually make money even though they’re charging less because their overhead is like none. And it’s worked. And so next, we’re going to Texas.

Kevin: Good for you, I mean stay with the large states with where you’re going. But I think that’s right. It’s a hard mindset. I used to practice law (but) I didn’t bill by the hour, it was contingency fees so I didn’t worry about that stuff. But it’s a hard mindset to get lawyers to realize that being more efficient can actually be better, and for the clients, that’s what they want anyway. They’re not looking to be spending the most time with you, they necessarily don’t like you, they don’t love you like their families to spend more time to make it more efficient. How’d you go about the process of saying, okay, we’re going to build this thing or have this app. What’d you do? Where’d you go? Where’d you go get the developer? Where do I start?

Erin: Oh my goodness. Um, well I, I had really burnt out on practicing law all the time. Like I was doing a lot of litigation. I had little kids at home. I just kind of needed a break and I had always loved tech and I’d always loved access to justice. And we have millennials coming into our office on a regular basis saying that they had the information, they had Googled it, they knew it, but they were having trouble like processing it or problem solving. And so they were asking for like fixed fee services or just unbundled services. And we weren’t set up to do that in a way where we could make money because our overhead was so high. So I went to a tech firm in San Francisco, um, called Yeti. And with them we did a design sprint and we really mapped out what we wanted or felt the user journey should be. We asked people in surveys, we, um, looked at colors, we looked at how we could integrate wellness support. We put everything in plain English, which is hard for us lawyers. Um, and then we had this amazing plan, but not enough money. So I, I did a minimal viable product on WordPress. I actually took like every plugin you can possibly imagine to try to rig together what is now our divorce navigator. And there was interest.

Kevin So it’s a web based site it’s not an application per se

Erin: Right it’s a web application now, but it’s not, um, you know, available for download in the Apple store. Um, but it is an application built in Python. It integrates with some of our sponsors here. So that’s nice too.

Kevin: How long ago was that? That you were in the office in San Francisco, the tech firm mapping out the journey.

Erin: Two years. Yeah.

Kevin: Yeah. What did you learn throughout that process that you didn’t know and there might be 80 things cause I don’t know. What did you get into that? They go quite, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that.

Erin: Yeah. Um, just for me it was like just how much the consumer has changed in the past 15 years. Even. So I’ve been practicing law for 15 years and you know, it used to be that we were like barricaded by this fortress of information and no one had access to it. And we told clients, you’ve got to trust us, like we’re going to give you the answer. You gotta trust us. And they really had no other choice. And now people expect more. They, they have the information or they want it and they’re willing to pay for a lawyer and they’re willing to pay for legal services, but they want to ensure that we know our stuff and that the user experience, um, is comparable to all the other apps that they use.

Kevin: That’s right. They have a relative or a family member that’s got a serious disease. What are they doing? They’re turning to the internet. And they’re getting great information and they may even be able to talk with somebody in that field via the internet, maybe on their iPhone and here it is and divorce that, Hey, it’s not fun, but it isn’t as serious as some life threatening diseases, but we’re going to live with a mystery cause Now I get it because I got all this information, but how do I go through it? They don’t want to do surgery, but it’s the same.

Erin: That that was a big piece of it. Like we made tons of worksheets and checklists so people could digest little pieces of the divorce process without trying to take it in all at once. So our most popular worksheet is the parenting plan when to help you figure that out. And the other most popular one actually is our self care worksheet, which surprised us, but we love it. We’ve got great consumers.

Kevin: The customers for you per se, are they the law firm, then that deploys it into their customer base or the consumers directly. Then that can go to the lawyer who is, who is the party that’s taking money out of their pocket and putting it into your pocket.

Erin 7:28: So right now we’re B to C (business-to-consumer sales), we are up until this point and October 1st we started, we launched our first ad campaign. But up until this point, we did no, like very little paid marketing and advertising. It’s all been word of mouth, social media, um, mediators, uh, just me getting out there and meeting people and whatnot. So consumers, but ultimately the goal is that lawyers will pay to use our platform, right? So that it makes divorce like that much easier for them. And we’ve had new lawyers tell us that they’ve paid for a membership, like a subscription to our app to learn how to do this stuff.

Kevin: I remember when I visited Nolo press, the was just coming about at 96 or 97 I had the idea of a virtual law community. I wanted to pull different pieces together. So, you know, I went out to Berkeley from Wisconsin and visited Nolo. Awesome. You guys got awesome stuff, you know, and they’re saying, Hey, do you understand what, this isn’t like a freebie. This is very capitalistic in what we’re trying to make as far as money from this book. And I’m realizing that those books ought to be in my library or my reception area and I should be buying them for the clients, you know? So if we want to know what’s going to go in on a trial, you one, what’s going on at deposition their A hell of a lot better than any books that the bar association.

Erin: So true. I don’t know why lawyers think that. If it gets the information, they’re not going to need us.

Kevin: And then when I told Nolo, why aren’t you selling this to lawyers, they go lawyers aren’t going to buy us. They hate us. I said, well, maybe they hate you because of the way you’re approaching it, but they don’t know. But if they had these books, it would make their lives easier. Um, think about it there was landlord tenant real estate there was divorce.

Erin: They had all these consumer facing areas of law. It was written for consumers.

Kevin: I mean, it was written for consumers so they could wade through it. See it in an entertaining way, like a dummy’s book it’s great.
Erin: It’s going to be decades before the legal system is efficient and streamlined. And until that happens, we’ve got counties with different rules. We’ve got States with different rules. People need help navigating that, but they don’t necessarily need a lawyer doing it.

Kevin: Not always no or they, or they could use a lawyer that has technology so the lawyer can access if they need to. I mean, if they paying the lawyer, they get a response back in about maybe an hour, but if the most oftentimes 10 minutes.

Erin: Yeah. I mean that’s definitely our advantage because people can click and they’re immediately, um, they can pay this all takes like two minutes. They get their, um, welcome email.

Kevin: What does it cost for someone to use this service?

Um, so the basic service, um, just to get access to the information in exchange for their email address is free. Yeah. It’s $99 a month to use the divorce navigator. And people are averaging five, six months. Divorce is a process

Kevin: And they can buy it by the month they don’t have to buy it by the year?

Erin: Exactly. They could easily, um, I hope people aren’t subscribing on a yearly basis. That would be terrible, just one divorce.

Kevin: Hopefully no one needs a lifetime subscription

Erin: Oh my gosh. Yeah. No, we need to give a discount for repeat customers or something. But what we’re finding is most people using the divorce navigator are upgrading to one time fee of $395, which allows us to do all the filing and processing and serving.

Kevin: How are you enjoying it? Are you having fun?

Erin: I love it. This is the best. It’s like, it’s so close to my heart because I always knew there was a way to lower the cost, um, and really target that 77% of people who aren’t getting their legal needs met. But I also wanted to find a way that I could earn a living because I wanted to show this to the lawyers. I wanted to introduce it to them here and say, look guys, like there’s a different way we can do this. And like, I got to do that today. So it’s like a dream come true.I’m such a nerd.

Kevin: So you spoke here today?

Erin: I spoke yesterday. Yeah.

Kevin: What were you talking on?

Erin 11:43: The win-win legal services model. So talking about passive income and how we can leverage the technology we already have to really like meet the consumer where they’re at and I’m just trying to convince people like Jack, you know the legal market is changing and if you’re not feeling it like we are, we’re in the Bay area, we’re surrounded by tech you will feel it, I mean I have had lawyer after lawyer come up to me and say I haven’t had a new case in awhile. And if you talk to the consumer, if you’re authentic, if you connect with them like a real human being, that’s what they want now look to make sure you have the credentials, but they don’t need that in their face. It’s not about you.

Kevin: No, my doctor, he said if we don’t get back to, you know, within an hour we might be tied up in something. I’m thinking hey that’s ok. I emailed an email to the office and it goes through, I think it goes through a vetting system where they can queue it as to where it goes. Because it’s only him and four or five staff and I got a personal email back know from the doctor about it. And I don’t have to go in. I pay a flat monthly fee, but so what.

Erin: Exactly, we have Kaiser out here in California. Do you?

Kevin: It’s up in Seattle, yes.

Erin: but you know, you have like a skin rash or something. You could take a picture and upload it to the app and then they’ll, you’ll talk right to the doctor or the nurse practitioner it’s extraordinary.

Kevin: Then you talk to somebody that’s this younger. They couldn’t imagine not having that. When you tell them the story of like, you know when I started to practice law, yeah, no, you make an appointment you come in you go in with a legal pad and pen, you make all types of notes and then, then you forget about half of stuff because you can’t read it. Then you dictate a summary or dictate a letter back to the client and they’re paying for the time.

Erin: The dictation. My dad was always dictating.

Kevin: I should just bring in like exactly what went on. At night I came in and 7 to 11 every night I was dictating stuff and then it was just stacks and it had numbers one, two and rubber bands around the tapes to go in the files and you copied the books and you cut them and put them in there and you had notes for the dictation. I think about how inefficient that was.

Erin: Oh my gosh. I remember my dad had, he was a trial attorney with the firm in LA. He had, we used to take the file carts and like run around the hallways and he had this huge room for a library, a huge room for the files and a huge cold room for the server. It was like a whole room. It was amazing. I mean now we’re seeing like these lawyers come out of law school and like set up shop on their computers in 2 minutes

Kevin: and never had a buy library subscription. Could you imagine every month the pocket parks come and have somebody has to pull them out of the books, put them back in and then they would sit on the library table and you’re wondering whether we should have them in the books or not. It’s insane. And amount of money we spent on, it was just, obscene so now whatever people are complaining about today is a fraction of what it was and so what you’re bringing into the environment is saying, Hey, you not only can serve people better, you might make money when you’re asleep now and that’s okay. It’s not to try to steal from people. You’re just having, you could develop subscription base businesses over time working with customers that have a better experience about the whole thing so that they’re raving about us. It’s really interesting what you’re saying about somebody who hasn’t had a call for a client for a period of time and it might be the way they’re presenting themselves and they’re inaccessible. You know, you’re right. You’re living in the middle of the Bay area and I’m living in tech, pretty tech savvy area as well

Erin: Yeah It’s, you know, I think that, you know, us gen excers, we really have this unique perspective because we saw our parents, um, and like really working in like non-tech. We didn’t grow up with iPhones like we were still on beepers and then all of a sudden we were expected to like know all this and know it quickly. I think you could probably relate to that as well.

Kevin: There were no word processors when we started and it was an amazing thing when two word processors arrived at the office with green font.

Erin: Did you love it? Did you embrace it right away or were you like, this is never going to work.

Kevin: Those I saw could work because it went I mean it sounds goofy but they went from IBM selectrix to an IBM with a mag card writer if you had a mag card writer it basically could kick things out, stop. And then whoever was keying in or typing in would stop and put in the name or whatever the information. There were only so many variables and documents should cause lawyers that were doing business and estate work and whatnot. They were making money in their sleep because they weren’t doing anything except finding five or six variables and their secretary was preparing the documents on the machines. I didn’t embrace the legal research and technology I thought it was the craziest thing in the world that we were gonna use computers to find.

Erin: I have people on my team that still won’t do it with the computer they want the book.

Kevin: Well it was delightful to talk with you. It’s great to hear that you’re having fun and you’re onto the next state Texas and then you’ll be on Florida and probably New York after that.

Erin: Yeah, you got it.

Kevin: You take care. Thank you very much.