Hello Divorce is a trailblazing online family law service. it is the brainchild of family law practitioner Erin Levine. Based in California, it operates in two other states with plans for more but readers might want to consult this site not actually to get a divorce but to be inspired by the underlying business model. Ms Levine has been showered with awards recognising her contribution from bodies including the American Bar Association and case management firm Clio. She was one of the stars of an interesting session on unbundling at a conference held by a consortium of organisations – including the Self-Represented Lawyers Network and the University of Denver – held yesterday.
The pandemic has forced almost all legal service organisations to upgrade their underlying technology and reform, to a lesser or greater extent, how they work internally. So, technology is becoming integral to their operation as never before. The next frontier is the one which has, until now, been successfully explored relatively little. How can private practitioners take advantage of technology to change their business model? There are numerous examples of attempts to do this from Co-op Legal Services’ early ventures into fixed price packages in the early 2010s or the current offerings from organisations like Divorce Online. Hello Divorce has, however, a number of distinguishing features which make it a leader its class.
First, this site is extremely well designed. In a Legal Talk Network podcast broadcast in 2017, Erin Levine says that the designers were sufficiently proud of it to blog (and presumably boast) about their work. And you can see why. There is nice integration of visuals and videos – including two minute long you tube explanation. There is a nice yellow and blue combination. The opening page presents a very clear three step approach to how it works: Step 1: create a free account (nice one to suck you in), Step 2 a free 15 minute strategy call (pulling you in further). Step 3 choice of your package (you are hooked by now). For an object lesson in freshening up the usual ‘about our team’ section, check out the range of photo poses chosen for staff. Very west coast – from playgrounds, forests to trucks.
And, secondly, of course the design is just not fonts, colour and visuals. There is freshness to it. The process of getting the right package is transformed into a quiz. The offer is tempting: ‘Take our quiz to find out what we think will work best for you and get all the divorce info you need. No more Googling about the process or how to protect your rights. We’ve done the work for you and give our members FREE access to all the essential resources and worksheets you need. Get organized and have your questions answered.’
Third, this is not some anonymous Hello Divorce site. This is Erin Levine’s Hello Divorce site. She pops up in chat-boxes on the site to ask if you have any questions. She pops all the time if you listen to US podcasts and media coverage of technology. One of the most revealing is with Jack Newton of Clio on its Daily Matters podcast where she deals with the impact of Covid on the business. I recommend it. She is so busy with the media that I doubt she actually can have much time for individual client work and I assume she operates with a lot of delegation. She is a decorated Bay Area family lawyer with two children. And she clearly has that American energy and can do spirit which alternately exhausts and inspires tired Europeans. ‘Not being one to shy away from a challenge and being comfortable as the “underdog,” I set out to create an online, ethically compliant, divorce. This is also why I chose Colorado as the second state to launch in – it has one of the most complicated processes in the nation, and it’s exactly what I set out to help people avoid.’ Ambitious she may be but contentious she seems to avoid. She is into ‘co-operative divorce’ and mediation – as the best family lawyers are.
So, I get a sense from the website of a person with an individual and attractive personality (as I am intended to do). And I get some chatty background information in videos and blogs. Want top tips for a successful mediation? Well begin with the first for a sense of the style: ‘1. Commit to being a good listener:Ugh, really? Yes. When spouses in mediation have good listening skills (and refrain from interrupting and attacking), settlement discussions stay on track. Bonus points for empathizing with your ex as you may find that s/he becomes more cooperative when feeling like they’ve been ‘heard.’ Number 2 is choose your lawyer wisely. That means her. Sign me up.
Fourth, there are a range of packages which nudge the potential user towards a subscription model with various bolt ons. They range from the initial basic free entry through the basic DIY divorce package for $20 a month for six months, the racily suggestive ‘divorce with benefits’ at $700 a month or the all in $4,500 co-operative divorce offering which includes a bargain unlimited mediation hours service. You can get extra additional lawyer time in three packages of 30 minutes, 1 hour and 5. Or you can pay for extra help with specific parts of the process eg advice on a post-up agreement for $1500. These are very nice presented with visuals, colour and few words.
Fifth, and this is I think really interesting, this kind of unbundling service has developed beyond document assembly. Hello Divorce is stand alone but also is integrated with the conventional ‘bricks and mortar’ law firm Levine Family Law Group. It has six lawyers. That has clearly set the context for the online process and the documentation assembly is linked to a case management system, Divorce Navigator, so that the user can be guided through the process over time. This walks you through the various forms you need to fill on a secure service through a Documate powered Q and A which then populates the form. You then get the choice of filing yourself or leaving it to the lawyers which can pick up the forms from the server. The easy integration is nice touch.
Ms Levine is nothing if not an enthusiast. ‘The market is really changing. Users are pushing back against hourly billing.’ she told the conference yesterday. And she has a thoughtful and scaleable model. She has already expanded to two other states beyond California. One is Colorado. Family law has been where much unbundling provision starts. As an area, it has some advantages. The cases are relatively similar. The business is regular. Many users have a bit of money. So, this approach should be scaleable in family law throughout, ultimately and if Ms Levine’s energy holds out, through the States. It might be even easier in the UK where there are fewer regulatory barriers and this site has advantages over anything already here. The big question is whether it presents a paradigm that can be deployed in other subject areas. Someone needs to find out.