Today’s consumers want services faster than ever, and the traditional legal service delivery model is no longer appealing to many in need of legal help. Erin Levine saw the need for her family law clients to have access to a simple, DIY approach to divorce that would save time and money and thus her successful platform, Hello Divorce, was born. The Digital Edge hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk with Erin about how lawyers can develop their own sustainable approaches to online legal services that meet the demands of the changing legal market. Erin shares insights on establishing a brand, staying relevant to today’s legal consumers, and avoiding burnout.
Erin Levine is the founder and CEO of Hello Divorce.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Clio, Nexa, Scorpion, and ServeNow.
The Digital Edge
Law in the Age of the Consumer: It’s the Model That Matters
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 145th Edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. We are glad to have you with us.
I am Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I am Jim Calloway, Director of The Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is Law in the Age of the Consumer: It’s the Model That Matters.
Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we would like to thank our sponsors. Thanks to our sponsor Clio. Clio’s cloud-based practice management software makes it easy to manage your law firm from intake to invoice. Try it for free at clio.com. That’s clio.com.
Thank you to Nexa, formerly known as Answer1. Nexa is a leading virtual receptionist and answering service provider for law firms. Learn more by giving them a call at 800-267-9371 or visit them online at nexa.com.
Jim Calloway: Thank you to Scorpion. Scorpion sets the standard for law firm online marketing with proven campaign strategies to get attorneys better cases from the Internet. Partner with Scorpion to get an award-winning website and ROI positive marketing programs today. Visit scorpionlegal.com/podcast.
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We are very pleased to have as our guest Erin Levine, who is Certified Family Law Specialist and the owner and managing attorney of Levine Family Law Group, based in Oakland, California.
She is also the founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, a modern break up service offering legal consumers on-demand legal help and wellness support. Thanks for joining us today, Erin.
Erin Levine: I’m pleased to be here. I love your podcast and I love the energy that both of you bring to it so it’s my pleasure, thank you.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well we’re glad to be together with you today and Erin let’s start with trying to figure out what led you to found Hello Divorce. Were there problems that you saw in the traditional family law practices that you wanted to address and improve upon maybe their processes?
Erin Levine: Absolutely. There were a number of competing factors, both personal and professional that led me to wanting to pivot away from my law firm and into a new model and company.
Some of which had to deal with the fact that I wanted to spend more time with my family and my kids. I was feeling really burnt out from my commute and from going to court all the time and I was really frustrated with the system that encourages conflict and inefficiencies.
As you know, family law is primarily on the billable hour and when you are responsible with it, it can be a really effective way to build. But when you aren’t, it can drag a case on forever because there’s really no incentive for a lawyer to try and resolve the case cost-effectively and quickly.
I also had a lot of clients who were in the tech industry so they were demanding more tech options from me and they were much more sensitive to issues of privacy and security and they wanted to take a more active role in their case and the way I had set up my law firm, my operational costs were just too high to offer either non-lawyer services or basic flat fee divorces.
So I was missing this whole market that I really wanted to capitalize on because people that have amicable divorces are generally a much easier client to work with. So I had to figure out how I was going to do that.
Jim Calloway: Well what exactly is Hello Divorce and what relationship does it have to your law firm and other law firms and lawyers?
Erin Levine: Sure. So Hello Divorce is a online website that offers consumers legal assistance, informational products and access to legal coaches on demand. So we have a few core values. One is that we educate consumers about the divorce process both the procedural piece and the substantive piece and we do it in plain English and in a way that people I hope can connect with.
The second way that we help people through Hello Divorce is by offering assistance, non-lawyer assistance. So as an example, we have a DIY divorce web application that allows consumers to, on their own, follow guided interviews that ultimately populate their divorce forms and give them instructions on how to file and serve.
If they find themselves in a place where they need legal help or they want help from someone to file and serve their documents for them, they can always click through that web application to access a lawyer through our law firm, Levine Family Law Group or another firm that we are working with.
Sharon D. Nelson: So I know everybody who’s listening says, show me the money Erin so how do you bring in the green?
Erin Levine: Yeah so something that was really important to me was to show lawyers that even moving off the billable hour and even changing a model that for most of us was working, you can still build a sustainable model that actually makes money. It’s just that you’re diversifying where that money comes from.
So for us, we have subscription fees if you are using our DIY divorce, divorce navigator. You’re paying $99 a month and the average divorce takes about six months. So we have this passive income coming in through the subscription fees and then we also have fixed fee or installment payments for do it for you divorce options.
Again this is still not lawyers, these are divorce experts who are not lawyers, who are helping guide people through divorce and helping with their emotional concerns as they go through it and that’s a fixed fee or payment by installments.
We also have affiliate relationships because as many of your listeners know who are in family law or divorce, lawyers aren’t everything in a divorce. You need a expert who can divide retirement accounts. You oftentimes need divorce therapists, you need certified divorce financial planners. There are lots of people who can help and often are a lot less expensive than lawyers.
So we’ve developed affiliate relationships with them so that Hello Divorce can earn money on with our referral partners. And then we also receive while the lawyers that partner with Hello Divorce receive a 100% of the income related to legal services so we don’t have an issue there ethically, Hello Divorce does receive a payment for any non-legal deliverables.
So it’s very diverse but we definitely are able to bring in the money and at this point for the last four months, we’ve grown 10% month-over-month. So I’m really proud of that.
Jim Calloway: Well that is an accomplishment. I tried a few divorce cases back in my time in primary practice as well. So I appreciate what you’re doing there. What would you say are your biggest accomplishments so far?
Erin Levine: Well there are a few. I think one has to do with what I mentioned a bit earlier that sustainable model showing lawyers that actual numbers which is what I did at my Clio speech to let people know that you can actually make money while making consumers happy and while addressing what they’re pushing for, especially that millennial consumer transparent pricing, connection, excellent customer service, plain English law. So that is definitely one of my biggest accomplishments winning the Reisman Award for Legal Innovation through Clio Award was also quite special.
I think because when I started we had a tremendous amount of haters from the legal community. People were saying that I’m taking business away from lawyers, people were saying that DIY can’t work. And so I put a lot of time, and focus and energy into connecting with the legal community and educating them on what I’ve done and to receive such powerful and positive feedback feels like a really big accomplishment and then saving consumers’ money.
Last year, we quantified that we saved consumers’ three million dollars in legal fees and not just saving their money, because really when we’re saving their money what we’re doing is saying, that we’re helping to bring down their level of conflict.
So I’ve had to clearly up my volume to earn the same or more money that I did as a law firm owner, but at the same time, I have a whole slew of people that are now able to divorce in a way that comports with their conscience, reorganize their family in a way where they don’t necessarily hate their ex, so they can co-parent effectively.
So I think developing a model that works, not for everyone, but works to take down that level of conflict and allow people to transition to single without so much animosity is something that I’m probably most proud of.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, I think those are some great accomplishments Erin, so congratulations.
Erin Levine: Thank you.
Jim Calloway: So before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is Law in the Age of the Consumer: It’s the Model That Matters, and our guest is Erin Levine, a certified family law specialist, and the Owner and Managing Attorney of Levine Family Law Group based in Oakland, California. She is also the Founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, a modern break-up service offering legal consumers’ on-demand legal help and wellness support.
Erin, how can small firm lawyers leverage their experience and knowledge of the consumer to earn money outside of delivering legal services in the traditional way, and I know that’s what a lot of folks are thinking to themselves. So how would you answer that question?
Erin Levine: This is one of my favorite topics. I love when lawyers take off their lawyer hats and put on their creative hats. What I say is think back to why you became a lawyer in the first place. Were you a great storyteller, were you great at resolving disputes, maybe on the play yard, you were able to stop fights from happening and so someone said to you at one point you should be a lawyer, maybe you were great or dynamic speaker.
But think back at why you became a lawyer to begin with and what it is you enjoyed and you were good at, and that can help inform you as to the different areas that you might be able to explore and make money.
So as an example, if you are a great writer you might want to consider writing a book, that’s hard to make money, but it is one option. If you are an incredible teacher you might want to consider an online e-learning course. If you are a great storyteller you might want to consider doing having more speaking opportunities and that of course helps with marketing and will help bring more attention to your firm.
If you are an entrepreneur and really enjoy running your business you might want to think about packaging up that as a course or maybe even working on productizing your services in the way of a legal application, a course like I mentioned or some other kind of video instruction.
But I think that before you decide what it is that you want to do, a really good thing to do is just to remind yourself what you’re good at, why you went into law and what you would like to do more of.
Jim Calloway: So why is it important to establish a brand and how do you go about doing that?
Erin Levine: Well, anyone in the legal technology industry who has launched a product knows that you can launch the absolute best product in the world and it will literally stand there and do nothing without a voice that people connect with, without marketing, without branding.
And I think all of us are a little bit naïve when we go into launching a legal technology product especially when its consumer focused, we think hey, this is going to be amazing, everyone is going to love it. It’s going to take down the cost of law, it’s going to make lawyers have an easier job lawyering. This is a win-win.
And then you launch and you realize, well, no one knows about it and no one really cares and maybe nobody even trusts that it’s going to solve their problem.
So establishing a brand is not only a way of getting the word out, it builds trust in both the legal profession who you need by your side and the communities that you serve. It builds interest and it builds confidence in your product and what you’re selling.
So I think the biggest piece of launching after developing the product itself is establishing that brand and staying relevant.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well I think we we’ve all been there and establishing a brand is no easy thing.
Erin Levine: Right.
Sharon D. Nelson: But how do you see the legal consumer market changing and what can lawyers do to stay relevant?
Erin Levine: Oh gosh, I think that’s a podcast in it of itself. I love talking on this topic, because a lot of — in my development of Hello Divorce, a lot of the work I did were surveys of people that were either just starting a legal action, had just concluded it or were thinking about filing.
So I really got to get into the minds of people and see what it is that they felt like they needed from a lawyer and with those results, I would say, that one thing that’s really changing is that this access to information. Anyone can Google, it doesn’t mean that they will get the correct information, but there is so much information out there and if you’re smart and you’re looking at reliable resources, you can oftentimes get some really good information. But having that information isn’t enough.
And so consumers need lawyers to help interpret it, to help problem solve, to help apply that information. And so I see us keeping a fortress behind the information that consumers need is not going to be helpful and it’s not going to encourage consumers to hire you. Rather, us now providing more information freely about procedure, about legal basics, well that’s going to attract more consumers and allow them to come to us when they need more nuanced help.
It’s also going to make a much better client, because when your client is educated it’s always much easier to work with them. And one thing I’ll note is that the Silicon Valley Legal Tech Network, yes, that’s the thing, we just established it, headed by Sarah Schaaf of Headnote, we all just wrote an article for Attorney at Work on what we believe the legal market trends are for 2020. So check that out if you haven’t already, but let me just give you one more way that the market is changing.
The market loves technology and they love efficiency, but they crave human connection. We are still in a services industry and technology is not enough. So we are seeing as you have over the last several years, a lot more integration of tech into legal practice, but there’s only so far that tech goes, and ultimately the client really does want to connect with a real-life human.
Jim Calloway: Erin, as I mentioned I did a bit of family law practice and one thing I remember is the incredible stress of dealing with incredibly emotional people about the most important issues in their lives, and I’ve seen some family lawyers who’ve had to give it up.
So aside from launching an entirely new company what are other things lawyers can do within their own practices to avoid burnout without sacrificing their income?
Erin Levine: Jim, I 100% relate and I will say that one of the reasons that led to my burnout was the type of clients that we were working with and a vast majority of them were in highly contested really bitter, really emotional divorces. And while we like to help people through that, it certainly can’t be our entire caseload because that leads to burnout.
And so I think what lawyers can do is look to their messaging, look at their websites, look at the type of emails that they’re sending out and this type of speech is that they’re giving. In our case, we had a website that talked all about zealous advocacy, all about getting you the best result possible, we even had a photo on our website of a child with each parent pulling an arm. And so who are we attracting? We were attracting clients that wanted to fight.
If you can shift your messaging so that your niching down into and meeting the client who wants — who you want to work with, then you are really going to help yourself from burning out and I know it’s scary. I know it’s scary to niche because you think that there’s this whole market of people that you’re no longer connecting with.
But I will tell you that at our firm, we don’t have that many leads. We have far less leads than the majority of firms in our area. However the leads that we get are quality and almost always retain. And so remember that when you are concerned about finding that niche because when you find a niche, you’re going to speak to the exact type of person that needs you and that you want to work with.
Jim Calloway: Great. Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to the Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is Law in the Age of the Customer: It’s the Model That Matters and our guest is Erin Levine, the Owner and Managing Attorney of Levine Family Law Group and the Founder and CEO of Hello Divorce.
So this is a $60,000 question here Erin, what is the biggest challenge with founding a tech company which you obviously did very well?
Erin Levine: Well I think it depends on what day you ask me. Every day, there are challenges. I mean even keeping your own personal relationships up and running and in good order because you’re devoting so much time, not just in the office but so much headspace and problem-solving time towards your company but I would say that probably the hardest part of founding our company was convincing the consumer that this is a viable alternative to the traditional status quo.
And as much as consumers want to see a change to the divorce industry, they also don’t necessarily want to be the first to try a change or reform. They’ve been burned by scams and they’ve heard horror stories associated with DIY divorce or DIY law.
And so we really, really, really had to think about how we could bring traffic and confidence to the platform while having a low budget and in some months, virtually no budget. And had to be very creative and curious as to how we could get people on board to trust our brand.
So that ended up for us being a ton of content marketing, worksheets and checklists and other freebies that people could use that would not only help them plan or execute on their divorce but get them confident that we had something that we could offer them that would be helpful.
Sharon D. Nelson: That’s interesting because I think a lot of folks listening would like to change the way their model is but just by acknowledging the truth that it was a little vicarious and you had to put in a lot of time and effort and give stuff away. I mean that this would scare some people. Don’t you think?
Erin Levine: I think so. I don’t think it is easy at all and if you are thinking about wanting to change things up a little bit just because you feel burnt out I’m hopeful that some of the other tips that I gave in the podcast that aren’t nearly as challenging as building your own web application feels like something that you can implement.
But another thing that people can do is they can go to hellodivorce.com and sign up for a free membership not because they want a divorce but just to get some ideas on how we have implemented this free content because you don’t need to do a hundred worksheets a year to make an impact or to stand out from other lawyers in your community.
And so feel free to download our worksheets and to get my emails or unsubscribe, it won’t hurt my ego but I think that could be a good idea just to maybe get some inspiration and yeah.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well that’s a very generous thought. So thank you for making that offer. I know some of our listeners will take you up on that. And thanks for being our guest today Erin. You are clearly a pioneer and it looks like you have gone westward successfully young woman and done very well with a model that represents I think what the consumers want and that’s what’s driving at these days, and they want something different in a world where everything else is made easier for them by technology. They want their lawyers to make it easier for them too and you did a great job of describing how that might happen. So thanks for being with us.
Erin Levine: Absolutely, thank you.
Sharon D. Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology. And remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or in Apple podcasts. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us in Apple podcasts.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Miss Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails cowboy.
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