Erin Levine, CEO of Hello Divorce, Built a New Way to Get Divorced
Divorce is emotional, confusing, time-consuming, expensive, and above all else — stressful. While no one can wave a magic wand and make divorce easy, we can (and should!) be cost sensitive and efficient — harnessing technology and modern techniques to save our clients money and time. This interview is part of Divorceify’s Innovator Interviews, a series sharing the stories behind today’s most cutting edge tools and approaches to divorce.
Erin Levine is a California based divorce lawyer who has introduced a new way for Californians to get divorced Hello Divorce, a guided tour through the divorce process with fixed-fee help along the way. Erin is proud to have built a divorce process that is affordable for clients to use while also offering lawyers a sustainable business model.
What does your company do?
Hello Divorce is a modern break up service providing affordable, on-demand, legal help and wellness support. We are an online alternative to the traditional retained attorney divorce model: providing a guided “tour” through the divorce process with ﬁxed-fee legal help along the way and an emphasis on wellness.
What is innovative about what you do?
Our Divorce Navigator simpliﬁes the process of completing and ﬁling lengthy and often confusing divorce paperwork by walking users through an easy-to-understand guided interview. The app uses artiﬁcial intelligence and conditional logic to adapt to each individual completing the form, asking only those questions that are relevant to the user, based on each previous answer. Individuals can work at their own pace and save their responses at every step. Should they need help at any point in the process, they can access legal help from experienced lawyers and legal document assistants, on demand, at a transparent ﬂat-rate fee. When the form is complete, with the click of a button the user’s answers are transferred onto the California divorce forms that pertain to their case. Users can print this oﬃcial paperwork with instructions and a checklist for how to ﬁle on their own, or they can hire legal help at a ﬂat rate to ﬁle on their behalf.
Unlike traditional law ﬁrms that bill by the hour and take a hefty retainer up front, users can “choose their own adventure” by paying only for what they need. We maximize automation and technology to cut out the overhead that most ﬁrms have – and then pass that savings onto the consumer. Our most popular service is “Divorce with Beneﬁts” – a “concierge” service wherein our legal document assistants prepare, process and ﬁle all forms necessary for an amicable divorce. Users who choose this option also have access to two hours with a lawyer to use however they please – review and revise forms, strategize negotiation, etc.
How does your innovation help divorce clients or divorce professionals?
Anyone in California can use the basic version of the Divorce Navigator for free, which includes step-by-step guidance through the divorce process as well as resources and articles to help support each step. The form-generating feature is provided with a $99/month DIY Divorce membership, which also includes unlimited access to explanatory video content.
Because we also offer access to legal coaches through the platform itself, users can easily have a lawyer review their paperwork and suggest revisions, coach them through mediation and/or help to strategize the next step. All appointments are done by phone and/or zoom video so consumers never need to leave their home.
Why did you start your company?
The divorce system is broken. It pits spouse’s against each other thereby encouraging (some) lawyers who bill by the hour to keep the hostility in play. Law is confusing, forms are challenging and the procedure is an art form. I wanted to create a company that walks users through the process – in plain English so that consumers have a viable alternative to the retained lawyer status quo.
My goal is to make the law more accessible to the approximately 85 percent of Americans who cannot afford legal representation. Divorce is a $50 billion industry in the US each year, with the average cost of legal fees per person ranging from $18,000 to $27,000. At Hello Divorce, we’ve brought that cost down to $1,500 on average.
Finally, I want to play my little part in changing the culture of divorce. Divorce is not failure. You are not failure. You are not broken and you do not need to be ﬁxed. Divorce is truly a reorganization of your life and/or family – but it doesn’t mean it’s the end. If anything it can be a step in the direction of having a fulﬁlling, happy and healthy next chapter.
What made you want to do things differently?
Clients at our ﬁrm were asking for services (DIY, mediation coaching and/or paralegal stand-alone services) that we couldn’t provide cost-effectively. I wanted to create products and services that were affordable and cost-effective to the consumer – but where lawyers could also make a good living.
Also, the average cost of divorce in the U.S. is $18,000 ($27,000 if you have children)— per person. Most people can’t afford these high fees and/or aren’t willing to leverage the little ﬁnancial liquidity they have to pay them, especially in light of the fact that they are moving from one household with one to two incomes to two separate homes. It is no surprise that 85% of Americans do not have representation for their legal needs and approximately 90% of divorces have at least one self-represented party.
After learning these statistics, I knew that something had to be done.
To change the system for the better, I knew I had to create a sustainable company. A nonproﬁt would be great for local folks – but would likely not be a model that would be freely replicated in other consumer-facing areas of law. I wanted to create a new method of delivering legal services that will hopefully inspire (other) lawyers to be innovative.
How did you bring your idea to life?
We began a design sprint. With the help of a design and development ﬁrm, Yeti LLC, I interviewed people to uncover what people could really use help with as they navigate the divorce process themselves. While technology and eﬃciency were important factors, they were only two components. Overwhelmingly, people wanted a human connection and they wanted checks and balances to make sure they were on the right course.
With that information in hand, I next had to map out the user experience, which may seem elementary to developers and UX people but it was all new to me. I had to think about every aspect of what happens in the divorce process— not just the forms and procedural steps but the whole process from start to ﬁnish.
The next step was to determine whether what I had designed was a viable product. I had to test the market to learn if there was even any interest. So, we ﬁrst built a website using WordPress, taking advantage of every available add-on and integration possible to bootstrap together a site that would work. It was a delicate and exhausting process. A lot of late nights were spent manually working on the website back-end in order to create a seamless experience for the consumer. On top of ﬁguring out the technology, I had to tackle several ethical concerns, some of which included the unauthorized practice of the law, fee splitting, and conﬂicts of interest. I actually invested the most money in trying to ﬁgure out how best to create something that didn’t violate existing regulations.
Finally, I launched Divorce Navigator 2.0 — a best-in-tech, ﬁrst-of-its-kind platform and now a new mobile-friendly app that we developed with the design and development ﬁrm Yeti LLC. Divorce Navigator integrates impact-thinking design and form-generating software from Documate that guides users step by step through the divorce process. Anyone can use it and it works even if the other spouse does not use it. In fact, even if someone has full representation through an attorney, they can use it to prepare all the forms on their own and then bring them to their lawyer to review.
How long did it take you to bring your idea to life?
3 years to launch DivNav 2.0. Although when I launched the initial company in 2017, it took me about 7-9 months to get ‘live.’ I have never wanted to give up but I also never expected this to be so hard. Launching was the easiest part of this journey (if you can believe it) – convincing the public that Hello Divorce is a viable alternative to the status quo (and gaining visibility with virtually no marketing budget) has been much more challenging – but all the more satisfying.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
What surprised me the most was the discovery that to truly be relevant, to sell yourself and your brand, you need to dive far deeper internally than you ever have before. Nobody tells you when you build a startup that what you know about yourself is not enough. Every insecurity and fear surfaced when building my company. To stay relevant, being clear, grounded, and present became essential. To be successful (in the way many of us want to be), I had to become visible. To become visible, I had to be authentic. To be authentic, I had to dig deeper into who I am than I ever have before.
What has been rewarding about bringing your idea to life?
The people I’ve met along the way. I’ve built a tribe of kind, innovative, witty and inspiring people that are an extension of my family now.
Can you walk us through a typical day? (If there is such a thing!)
After getting my kids off to school, I head into the oﬃce each morning to check in about our law ﬁrm, Levine Family Law Group. I handle any administrative issues and mentor our associates if they need help on a particular case. Then my focus turns to Hello Divorce. I generally have 1-3 meetings regarding product development, marketing, partnerships, content and/or standard operating procedures. I usually have 3-5 client meetings per week so I stay up to date on trends in law and connected with our target consumer. I also love to help people so it really satisﬁes my soul. On Wednesdays, we have a yoga instructor who comes to the oﬃce so everyone’s schedule is clear in the afternoon. On Thursday’s the LFLG and HD teams meet for 1.5 hours over lunch. We usually have cupcakes too because there’s always something to celebrate 😉 I reserve Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings for after-hours clients and/or business meetings. The other evenings I’m generally home with my 4 yo and 7 yo.
Do you have any advice for others that have an idea for an innovative product or approach, but don’t know where to start?
Don’t overthink. Don’t let imposter syndrome get to you. No one knows what they are doing. We are all amateurs no matter how much experience we have in business, law and life. That’s ok! Find a problem and focus on the solution. Don’t get swept into the excitement of new and different tech – tech is great but it rarely solves a legal problem on its own.
Who is your role model or inspiration?
Too many to name. But for this, I will say that I am a huge fan of Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevate. Her mission is to get more money in the hands of women. Period. I once heard her speak in the tiny and magical town of Pulga and when she spoke, it literally sent shock waves through my body. She is ﬁerce, gritty, powerful yet vulnerable in conversation. My favorite quotes of hers: “Stop hoping for a promotion that’s not coming. Instead, start a business at which you want to work.” AND “I love to talk. I love to share. I love to vent. But I prefer action.”
How do you bring joy into your workday?
Dance parties. Always dance parties.
If you could reinvent your career and do something totally different, what would it be?
I’m living it!
Do you have a mantra or piece of advice you have received that helps you get through diﬃcult times?
“Guts over fear.” “I’m staying away from people who make me feel hard to love.” “Decide what kind of life you want. Then say “no” to everything that isn’t that.”
How I built this. Story brand. Masters of Scale. Online Marketing Made Easy, Lawyerist, Girlboss Radio, The Accidental Creative, Gutted, Radical Candor …