In our 40th Episode, Greg and Marlene interview Erin Levine, an attorney and founder/CEO of Hello Divorce, a service that makes divorce more human and accessible by offering legal help and wellness support throughout the process of dissolving a marriage. Offered in California, Hello Divorce offers access to resources and tools and different service levels, from basic to concierge to a la carte access to independent fixed fee attorneys. Erin highlights that the legal process can be confusing, dis-empowering and expensive and that Hello Divorce is a necessary guide to help people navigate the system in a way that doesn’t destroy them financially and emotionally. While divorce representation is a consistent legal need, Erin highlights that there are many other parts of the process that are also necessary which don’t require attorney skills. She leverages various forms of process improvement including outsourcing, automation, smart contracts to make the service application scalable.
Part of what is interesting about the discussion (and there are lots of interesting parts) is that Erin stands the idea of aggressive and hostile divorce action on its head. While Erin has critics, she maintains the benefit of taking down level of tension and fear between the parties. In fact, 92% of divorces started with hello Divorce have concluded without having to refer out to full rep attorneys. (10:17 mark)
According to Aliqae Geraci from Cornell and Shannon L. Farrell from University of Minnesota wrote an article entitled “Normalize Negotiations!” we teach librarians a lot about management skills, but we’ve lacked in teaching them basic skills like salary and promotion negotiation skills. There is a place for the American Library Association (ALA) and the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) to teach their members these skills. (4:05 mark)
For the small price of a European vacation for a family of four (AKA expensive), you can own your very own AI powered robot who cleans your house for you while you sleep… and can remember to bring you your favorite beer, hopefully when you’re awake. (5:59 mark)
From MIT, we get ” Every Leader’s Guide to the Ethics of AI.” Ep. 31’s guest, Vishal Agnihotri suggested we look at this, and it ties in with our last episode on algorithmic governance. As AI becomes more and more integrated into business activities, the authors suggest that we treat it, as well as our employees, customers, and the public, with the respect we all deserve. An “AI Mishap” can destroy a company or its reputation. (side note: AI Mishap is the name of Marlene’s new Country Band.) (6:56 mark)
With all the talk about mental health in the legal industry, the NPR report on Where’s Masculinity headed? Is perfectly timed. (8:51 mark)
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Erin: like they might actually be thinking about it or divorce curious? Uh, I don’t know. So that’s one thing.
Marlene: Divorce Curious. My God,
Greg: That’s a new name of my punk bands.
Marlene: Welcome to the Geek in Review. The podcast designed to cover the legal information profession with a slant toward technology and management. I’m Marlene Gebauer
Greg: And I’m Greg Lambert. So Marlene, we’re at Episode 40. So how about that?
Marlene: We just turned 40. It’s like we’re a middle aged podcast.
Greg: 40 is the new 20, right?
Marlene: That’s right.
Greg: We still have a lot to learn.
Marlene: That’s what I’m going with.
Greg: So on this episode we have a very fun and very interesting interview with Erin Levine, who’s a lawyer out of Oakland and founder of Hello Divorce. And I will call it a divorce as a service product where she basically has streamlined the process involved in people who are getting divorced. It was really interesting to listen to how she has looked at a very common legal process and found ways to improve that process and change the very way that we look at how people, lawyers, and the courts handle divorces.
Marlene: Like this is a key example of someone who worked in her profession and saw that a need that wasn’t being addressed. People need more information and not only information but a sense of support when they’re going through what you know might actually be the most difficult time of their life. The current process doesn’t really offer that. And apparently what Erin’s done has really resonated with people.
Marlene: And I do have a bone to pick with you, Greg.
Greg: I know you do.
Marlene: I’m very disappointed that you went and did a video spot without telling me and then just put it up and said, “Hey, what do you think?” Like, after all this face for radio business that you’ve been spouting? And I’m saying we should do videos! “No. No.”
Greg: Well, you know me. I’m very spontaneous. And quite frankly, I think this verified that I do have a face for radio.
Marlene: Well, I thought it was actually a pretty good first effort, but you know, we’ll talk.
Greg: Yeah, well, I expect you to come up with one now.
Marlene: Oh, I will.
Greg: Solast week, Marlene, I got to check something off my bucket list. As you know, I went to Michigan State University, which is a fantastic looking campus, and got to speak with the Michigan Law Library Association. I had a free night while I was up there, and I had a rental car. Marlene: No trouble. There’s no trouble there.
Greg: None whatsoever. So I drove over to Grand Rapids, which is, I guess, about 60 miles away, and went to the Founders Brewery. And I got a few samples of the beer that you can only get at the brewery. And so I know that Courtney Selby, who we had on as our beer law expert last year, pretty sure she was jealous.
Marlene: You think maybe she’s a little envious of you?
Greg: Maybe. But it was It was a really good experience. I also have to say that I found Grand Rapids to be a really good looking and cool looking city. There seems to be a lot going on there. I have to say I recommend both Grand Rapids and, of course, Founder’s. And also you know, speaking of Courtney Selby, I don’t know if you know this, but she has recently moved from Hofstra and is now the law library director and assistant dean at St John.
Marlene: So yes, I I did see that news. So that was wonderful.
Greg: Hopefully she can spot out a few more breweries now that she’s over in Queens.
Marlene: Oh, I’m sure she will. So, Greg, I didn’t do anything last week.
Greg: Hey, sometimes it’s good to take a week off.
Marlene: Except hear you gloat about going to Founders’ brewery. So you know, with that, let’s just go to our information inspirations.
Greg: Marlene, My first inspiration this week is about salaries. There’s this great blog named “In the Library with a Lead Pipe.
Marlene: That’s a great name.
Greg: That is a great name. I do have a little side note when I was a kid and I would play this game when I was playing. Clue, I would say, in the library with a lead pipe, and it would drive everybody crazy. So this article is about library salaries, not just law library, but library in general. So the article is written by Aliqae Geraci from Cornell, and Shannon L. Farrell from the University of Minnesota. The article is entitled “Normalized Negotiation! Learning to negotiate salaries and Improved Compensation Outcomes to transform Library culture.” So in this article they discuss how we train librarians to negotiate on the management side of things. But there’s not a lot of help on the employees side. And they even suggests that associations like the American Association of Law Libraries and the American Library Association that they have a role to play and teaching their members salary negotiation skills. You know, in a profession that something around 70% women we have known for a long time that that salaries may not be where they need to be and that you know more transparency and the ability to help librarians with their negotiation skills would be a you know, I think this was a timely task to tackle.
Marlene: Yeah, I agree. Salary negotiation and negotiation skills in general, they’re hard thing to master. It’s really a crucial skill, I think, in salary negotiations and in life. So I think if you know Double A (AALL) or any other organization could help people learn these skills. I think that’s fantastic.
So, Greg, that was a very sort of serious topic, and now I’m going to go to a less serious topic. Okay, so I saw a tweet that actually turned into a YouTube video. And it is about an AI powered robot that will clean your house.
Greg: Hey, I’m all for that.
Marlene: And you know, so I’m all for that as well. And so this is an AI powered robot cleans your house while you sleep, and it will serve you your favorite drinks. And hopefully it will not do that while you sleep. So and apparently it will remember – and I thought of you when I read this – it will remember which beer you like and don’t like who I like.
Greg: I like it even more.
Marlene: But then I saw that the ad says that it’s going to cost less than a vacation in Europe, for a family of four.
Greg: I guess is one way to put it. It’s going to be very expensive.
Marlene: So maybe I’ll just wait for the overstock.com version.
Greg: There you go. All right. Well, my second inspiration actually was a suggestion that I saw on LinkedIn from our previous guest Vishal Agnihotsi. This was from MIT’s Management School, and the article is called “Every Leaders Guide to Ethics of AI.” And although it is actually an article from last December. I think it dovetails into last week’s guest, professor Hanna Bloch-Wehba, and her discussion on AI and algorithms in how far we can go with the technology over ethics and transparency. This one, Thomas H. Davenport and the Vivek Katyal discussed the fine line that many companies walk when it comes to AI and automation. The line between what we could do and the line of what we should do is pretty thin. And many companies aren’t all that worried about the ethics involved. The authors suggest that AI ethics is something that is a board level issue, because if there’s an AI mishap that it could bring a company down, or at least significantly damaged the company’s reputation,
Marlene: AI Mishap is the name of my new band.
Greg: Yes, I’ve got Divorce Curious, and, you got
Marlene: AI Mishap.
Greg: So again, many of these suggestions dovetail with what we talked about last week. You know there’s a need to understand what the tech is doing, including any embedded bias that’s in the tech. There needs to be disclosure for how companies are actually using AI. There needs to be transparency. And, privacy expectations should not be trampled upon. It also describes how companies should clarify how the AI works with their employees rather than how it can replace their employees.
Marlene: So my next inspiration is an article I was reading off of npr.org about where is masculinity headed? I was reading this, and it definitely has some good insights in general, and I encourage everybody Look at it. But I was thinking about it in the context of the discussion that’s been going on regarding, you know, depression and sadness and anger in the legal profession, and thinking about how a lot of it could be caused by the type of learned behavior that they were discussing in the article. So, you know, take a look at it.
Greg: Well, that was short.
Marlene: My last one was long, and this one was short.
Greg: All right, well, then, that wraps up this week’s information inspirations.
Erin Levine Interview
Greg: Marlene, of course you know, divorce is never a pleasant experience, even when you get divorced from somebody you really don’t like, you still feel like a failure. And just to make matters worse, the court system doesn’t seem to really make it very easy for anyone to go through this very painful process. Today’s guest is Erin Levine. She has a kind of new way to look at this and streamlined the process, so let’s take a listen.
Marlene: We want to welcome Erin Levin, founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, a new membership based alternative to traditional matrimonial legal services. Erin’s the owner of Levine Family Law Group. You just celebrated your 10th anniversary congrats. And is based out of Oakland, California. Welcome to the program, Erin.
Erin: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Greg: So, Erin, tell us a little bit about your background and give us, like one thing that most people might not know about you.
Erin: Sure. So I have been in law since, well, let’s see 15 years now. As you stated, I just celebrated my 10th year anniversary with Levine Family Law Group, and I launched Hello Divorce, my online legal platform, just about two years ago. Let’s see… something that people might not know about me is that I was on the show Romper Room.
Marlene: No way.
Erin: I was, and I just met somebody else in legal technology or borderline legal technology. He is the CEO and founder of FAYR, it’s a co-parenting app. He was also on Romper Room.
Marlene: So, do you guys have romper room reunions? You should.
Erin: No, I wish we did. Some of the smartest people I ever met were on Romper room at, like, five years old. So
Marlene: Awesome. So, Erin, what got you interested in matrimonial law as a practice?
Erin: Well, let’s see, I became interested in law when I was a kid. I was actually a teenager when I was a witness in a criminal defense case and a plaintiff in a civil case. And I found both processes to be really confusing, disempowering, scary. I felt in many ways, like the victim. I felt like I was on trial. Even though I was the victim. I was the one who had survived some pretty brutal, heinous crimes. I knew at that point, and I didn’t know how I would get there, but I knew at that point I definitely wanted to be in law. And I definitely wanted to learn how to be a tour guide of sorts. I wanted to be able to help people navigate the system. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I knew I was going to go to law school. I kind of fell into family law, actually. And the reason is is because after I graduated law school, I looked for a job that would get me into court right away, because for whatever reason, I thought that was an important thing for me to do. I was super shy in law school. The Socratic method was terrifying for me, and I just wanted to like…
Marlene: It was terrifying, wasn’t it?
Erin: It was awful. It was really awful. I didn’t speak in legalese. Like I spoke a lot clearer and to the point, and that was not celebrated in law school at all. So I got myself the first job that came my way, which included court and trial within a few weeks of becoming a lawyer. And that was a family law job. And then it turned out that family law, matrimonial law was really a good fit for me. So I stuck with it.
Marlene: Can you tell us a little bit about those lawsuits that, you know, sort of got you on the road to where you’re going now?
Erin: Sure. So another thing that a lot of people might not know about me is that I was a competitive gymnast growing up, I was nationally ranked, and I had the dream, like almost every little girl who’s a gymnast of becoming an Olympian. And I had gymnastics coaches who told me that I actually had that possibility, that chance. And so, anything that they said, I believed in. I followed. Because they were the gods to me. They were the ones who could give me this opportunity to go to the Olympics. And those people also turned out to be abusers in many different ways. Emotionally, physically, sexually for most of my childhood and adolescence. And so it wasn’t until I was a late teen that I sort of broke free of that. And was able to come back to my hometown and turned them in. So that led to both the criminal case where I received justice, in the traditional sense of the word, right. Like the main coach went to prison… was out very shortly thereafter, but he did go to prison. And I received money enough to help me get through college and law school, which was awesome. But it still was a really painful, awful, scary process that I knew we could do better.
Marlene: Well, I’m very sorry that that happened to you. Truly
On your site, it says, we like solving problems. Is that how Hello Divorce came about? Were their problems in the system, where you said, you know, I have a better way and I’m going to do that?
Erin: It was a combination of things. Number one is I was starting to get bored with my own practice. I also looked around at other lawyers that were 10, 20, 30 years older than me, and they were still practicing law in the courtroom, which is great for them. It was not something that I wanted.
Marlene: When you said you’re bored, like how were you bored? Like what was not satisfying you at that point?
Erin: I was getting really tired of litigating. I liked to litigate when I feel passionate about a cause, but I don’t like to do it every day, especially with two small girls at home that I’m raising. And a team of lawyers that we’ve built at Levine Law that I wanted to mentor, and you just can’t do that. And you can’t scale your business in the way that you might want to, when you’re litigating or you’re heading to court almost every day.
Marlene: Yeah, I found when when I litigated, it was it was emotionally draining. And, you know, I can’t imagine kind of having a, you know, support, you know, dealing with a family and being and doing that at the same time. And, you know, keeping your emotional sanity. So I hear what you’re saying.
So as you developed Hello Divorce into the system that is now, what is it that you’re offering clients and who is providing the service to them?
Erin: It’s a mix of products and services. So essentially, what we do is when people sign up, they get a free account. They get access to loads of resources and tools on family law and on Hello Divorce to try to determine whether it might be a good fit for them. And then we offer several different levels of service. You can up-level/down-level at any point, but for the fairly simple or uncontested divorce, most people choose our divorce navigator which is a Web app that takes users through the divorce process start to finish. Many people are also using it now, even if they are represented by counsel, or even if they do have a messy divorce just to get the forms done, because there are so many forms that have to be done and they don’t necessarily need to be done by a lawyer. So we’ve got that D I Y. Divorce, the divorce navigator that’s used across the board, and then we also have a couple other plans. Divorce plus and divorce with benefits. Those are for people that still have a relatively mild divorce. But they want more of a concierge experience. They don’t necessarily need lawyers, but they want to work with people who understand the process and will help them through. And then we have a la carte services as well, which offer people access to lawyers. Not through Hello Divorce, because then we’d run into ethics issues, but in other firms, specifically Levine Family Law group and other people that offer fixed fee legal help. So there is no representation with Hello Divorce. We either supplemental representation or offer second opinions, or just do the divorce start to finish without representation. As it turns out, most divorces, at least the ones that are coming to Hello Divorce, are fairly amicable. Or, they start out maybe with some tension, but when the other spouse sees that they’re using Hello Divorce and our intention is clearly to help them through and not screw over the other spouse. We’re getting this amazing benefit, which is that we’re taking down the level of tension and complexity within the case and really being able to move it towards conclusion. So I think what I’m most proud of is that 92% of the divorces who’ve come through Hello Divorce so far have started and concluded with the divorce judgment in our system without having to refer them out to full representation attorneys.
Greg: Interesting. So you’re kind of putting the lawyer in the background but not making it necessarily a confrontational issue where, you know, when one spouse is telling other, “I’ve lawyered up,” and and they have, but in a way that really is just to assist them in the DIY process, rather than to create some kind of combative environment. Interesting.
Erin: Yes. I want to transcribe what you just said so that I can share with people. But yes, absolutely. I mean, everyone should go to a lawyer and understand what their legal rights and responsibilities are. Really, I strongly believe this. We don’t want to exclude lawyers. But what we do want to acknowledge is that the law is just one piece of divorce and family law. There is so much more. And if it’s determined what it is that you can afford or how you can move on in a way that doesn’t destroy you emotionally, these questions require professionals outside of the realm of law. And quite frankly, if we tried to handle all of that, number one is as lawyers, we don’t have the expertise, but number two is we’re too expensive.
Greg: And is the service only in California? Or is it? Where is this available?
Erin: Yes, so right now it’s only in California. But this year we are working on expanding into two other states, and that’s a whole other issue in it of itself, because aside from the fact that I’m self funded and that I’m moving through this process on my own, leveraging the proceeds that we’re making from the company. But we’re running into all sorts of ethics issues and issues with mandatory forms being distributed by one company and not others, and so on and so forth. So this is… this is like, I’m not stopping until I get to the majority, if not all of the states, but it’s not going to be an easy climb.
Marlene: Yeah, it seems like you know, bureaucracy slows everything down, right?
Erin: Most definitely.
Marlene: What do you think is the most important difference that a service like Hello Divorce offers people as opposed to more traditional matrimonial services? You know, what they what did they offer or don’t and why?
Erin: I think, really a cost effective way to get divorced without sacrificing the quality or convenience. When I had Levine Family Law Group, actually still have Levine Family Law Group, but people started coming to me, especially like young, younger people in tech who were divorcing where they didn’t have children yet. But they I had like a dog, and they had already agreed on some sort of pet custody provision. They were coming to me and they were asking for fixed fee services or services with just a paralegal. I could not offer to them that in a cost effective manner, because I had this huge overhead. I was paying people a lot of money. I have a nice office. All of these things. Nothing was automated. I couldn’t possibly provide them the service that they wanted, and still make money. So I had to figure out a new way to do it. A new way to deliver legal services such that they, the client, was getting what they want, and I was making money. That’s really what was the driving force behind Hello Divorce. Other than the fact that I was bored and I wanted a change. I also really wanted to create a new sort of sustainable legal service model that meets the client were there at. Because the legal consumer, as I know you guys believe, is truly changing, especially when it comes to consumer facing areas of law.
Greg: When you talk about divorce, divorce isn’t something that is a novel concept. It’s you know, half the people who get married tend to get divorced. It’s a consistent legal need that’s out there. How do you create some type of sustainable legal model like this that helps to bring the cost down and yet still supports the ability for you to have a career? I think a lot of lawyers feel like if what I do is not a commodity, and therefore I can’t imagine the sort of thing. But there seems to be a balance that you struck here. So how do you do that?
Erin: I think it’s a combination of now offering services that don’t necessarily require a lawyer and that when you are offering legal services, they are with a client who’s well informed and has already done some or all of the work or the thinking around divorce on their own. So I really, I’m a strong believer in passive income, and that’s what I love so much about Our Web application is that sure, the start up costs were really challenging, but now it is on its own, and people can work through it. If they need some extra help along the way, they can click for an on demand consultation with a lawyer, but we’re really making money from the app itself. And then, also by leveraging the super experienced paraprofessionals, we could make a lot of money there, too, because clearly they don’t cost me the same hourly rate as it would be to hire a lawyer. That’s number one and number two. Number three is now when you’re paying lawyers to work through a service like Hello Divorce, you’re paying lawyers who are not full time, who don’t expect the same benefits as they would get if they were in a firm. They’re looking to Hello Divorce like, “Wow, I get to stay at home and raise my kids. I get to choose my own hours. I get to work with people who are good people, not motivated by hate and bitterness.” But they want to resolve this in a healthy way. So what I try to do is really help to show them this is gonna be awesome. You might not make as much money as you would if you were working full time in a law firm. But you get to have all these other benefits as well. And so I’m lowering my cost there. And then also really, really, really focusing on everything that you can possibly automate in a way that’s convenient for the client or the user, but also really helpful for the lawyer. This isn’t fancy tech. I mean, most of it is stuff programs that you and I already have on our computer or phone. But it’s just learning how to leverage that in the best possible way. So an example would be like when you want to speak with a lawyer, there’s absolutely no person to person intake at all, right? They complete an intake form. They’re routed to a scheduling program. They get sent the terms and conditions with the law firm that they choose. They e sign that and checked the box. I mean, all of that stuff is done, including paying, without me ever having to talk to them until they’re on my calendar.
Greg: Yeah, what we call process improvement. The fancy word around here. So I know I’ve I have been following you for a while now on Twitter, and I know that there’s been a little bit of a push back from, well we’ll call it a negative push back about Hello Divorce. What do you think is behind people not wanting to discuss the product? I think you’ve had issues with… I don’t know if it would be reporters or people that would normally do product reviews, don’t want to review this product for some reason? I love one of the tweets where you’d listed some of the comments about your product, which said the product is ‘pathetic’ and ‘it’s horrible’ and that my favorite was ‘the peak level of degeneracy.” Which, when I read that Marlene, she she was like, “Whoa, somebody’s angry.” And I imagine these are probably not the worst comments. So what do you think is behind that?
Erin: That’s a great question. We just got some more in this weekend’s on LinkedIn, which surprised me as well. I think when people hear the word divorce, they think somehow it’s like catchy or contagious or we’re now going to breed their mind if they say the word like they might actually be thinking about it or divorce curious? I don’t know. So that’s one thing.
Marlene: Divorce Curious. Oh My God!
Greg: Oh my god, that’s a new name of my punk band.
Erin: So divorce itself, you know, we just live in a culture where there’s so much negativity around it, and for whatever reason, people think that if you offer a less expensive or more convenient way to get divorced now the rest of us are all going to go out there and do it. So you’re the gateway drug to divorce.
Erin: I get all different. And so I got to get it. Sometimes from journalists who say that, you know, we profile companies that are doing social good, and we we don’t consider divorce to be social good. Then I get it from like consumers who are just kind of freaked out by, you know, divorce being so in your face. And then I sometimes get it from lawyers as well. So it’s been really interesting. We have a wall of shame in our office and we just put the comments on the wall of shame. And we have a wall of fame, and, you know, whenever we’re feeling, particularly, I don’t know, feisty or whatever. We just, like go to the wall of shame and read them off.
Marlene: Well, I’m glad you have a healthy attitude for it. I mean, it surprises me because this is not the only thing out there. I mean, even practitioners I know in New Jersey are kind of looking at alternative forms of sort of getting through the divorce process. And, you know, if people are sort of set in what they want, you know, there’s different types of packages and it’s it’s more of a mediation and you’re not using judges. So I mean, there’s other, you know, this other ideas out there in order to sort of make it more simple and less expensive to people. So I’m not. I’m not really understanding why, you know, this is particularly a problem.
Erin: I mean, and they might be getting some of that is, Well, it’s just it is really odd to me. There are a lot of people doing great things in the industry. I never received any feedback like this at all from my law firm. Even though we did things a little bit differently than most others. But there’s something about Hello Divorce that is really conjuring up a lot of emotion, you know, with the little to no ad spend. It’s actually quite helpful because, you know, it gets the word out there and everybody has an opinion.
Marlene: Yeah, so I’m going to shift the conversation a little bit from the negativity to something a little more positive. So, you know, I went on the website and you know, it has a really nice design. So congratulations for that. It’s very client oriented. There’s a section, you know, is this you? And they have these nice pictures of people kind of living their lives. It’s just it’s very calming and, dare I say friendly, You know, it’s not, you know, attorneys and power poses… or recitation of experience… and there seems to be a very intentional lack of controversy on the site. You touched on this a little bit, I think, earlier. But what demographic are you targeting? Is it people who you know are pretty much set and then there’s not a lot of controversy? Or is this kind of to bring in people that maybe there’s something more contentious going on and it’s letting them know that that, hey, there’s another way to do things?
Erin: Well, thank you for the compliments. I think that, you know, when you’re as lawyers trying to, bring visibility to a new way of practicing law, or delivering services. You have to balance empathy, like knowing what the consumer is facing, and how you’re going to get them from Point A to point B. But also authority. Like you have the experience and the knowledge to get them there. And that’s the tricky part. When you want to create like this calming place for people to come to that includes wellness support and moving forward after really tough chapter. But you know, with this like “But hey, we got you, we’re going to take care of you, and everything’s going to be here that you need. And if it’s not, we’re going to help you find where you need to go.” But really, who am I trying to attract? I am trying to attract people who do not want a long, messy, costly divorce that destroys them financially and emotionally. And it turns out most people don’t want that.
Marlene: Shocking, right?
Erin: They just don’t know where to go, right? Like you look online for a divorce attorney, or any attorney, and there’s like the image of the kid being pulled by Mom on one side and Dad on the other. Or, you get really scared because your spouse says I lawyered up and you go and you pick the most badass (if I can say that) lawyer to try to, you know, an aggressive lawyer to try to counteract that. I think what we’re trying to say is, if you don’t want a messy, yucky, terrible divorce for the most often you I don’t need to have one of those. And you can get the information that you need without having somebody take 100% full advantage of you. Now, there are exceptions. There are people that have power imbalances. There is violence. There are narcissists. Although I have to tell you that almost everyone who gets divorced says that their spouses a narcissist. So I used that word very, very cautiously. There are exceptions, but for the most part, most people don’t want a divorce that’s going to take them down. And they just need to understand how they can move forward without it destroying them.
Greg: I’m curious. Your clients, are they mostly women? Is it mostly men? Is it a mix? Who is attracted to this? The style of DIY Divorce?
Erin: Yeah, that’s a good question. And we also call it D I F Y. I do it for you because we do have those options as well.
Greg: I was thinking the other “F”, but it’s all good.
Erin: Yeah, love it. Well, first of all, I should say that approximately 70% of divorces are filed by women, so and Hello Divorce has a much longer sale cycle than law firms because people are coming to Hello Divorce just to get initial information before they’re ready to jump. But I will say that initially we had about equal men and women coming to the site and men were much more likely to jump, meaning to pay, and try this new method of of services. Because so much… I think this is why… Because so much of my marketing is done by me, and I am a woman, and I do, connect with other women going through trauma or difficulty. I think that especially when it comes to Instagram and Pinterest, my marketing tends to attract more women. So we certainly have more women coming to the site. But we have both men and women that are using the site on a regular basis. It’s probably about a 70/30 split now. Last time I checked 70% women.
Marlene: So I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here for a second and say that I think, you know, people sometimes will say, You know, yes, I don’t want anything that’s messy. I don’t want any controversy. And then once things start happening, hurts, you know, surface people lash out, people act emotionally. I recently saw this product called Next Level Mediation, where it’s to help mediators, which could happen in the family practice but could also happen in other practices. You know, where they do a psychological evaluation and essentially asked the parties, what’s most important to them to get out of this. To understand what their needs are, but also to managed expectations. And honestly, you know what, I talked to the founders, to remove some of the drama because that the mediators, you know, just don’t want to deal with that. In part of your wellness support, do you offer something like that?
Erin: Yeah, I love that. I think that’s an amazing approach. We don’t do any sort of psychological evaluations or anything like that, but I think that’s a really important point. Divorce is not an event. You don’t announce, “Hey, we are going to get divorced,” and then the next day your divorce is finalized. It’s a process, and all sorts of hurt and emotion and all that stuff come up along the way. Any time you have communication issues within the marriage, they don’t magically go away during the divorce process. So it is challenging. And so we have a few goals. One is all of our resources and tools like our self-care checklist and our [goals after divorce] worksheet, and so on and so forth are not just written by me. They’re written by some of the biggest influencers in the wellness and financial industries. So our people that are going through Hello Divorce or getting peppered with this information not just on our site, but in my emails on social media and anywhere else that they might follow us. Because we’re really trying to build this community. So we’re trying to say “Okay, I know yesterday was a really, really tough day, but like, eyes on the prize people!” So like another example from a legal perspective will be I had so many people coming to me and saying, “I’m using the service, but my spouse went out and got a lawyer. What should I do?” So I wrote an article and an email about this. “Great! We want your spouse to talk to a lawyer. We want him or her to know what is important and what needs to be just thrown to the side and not be part of your divorce.” So we do a lot of that sort of coaching along the way. And then what I always say is when people get to a certain place where there’s one or two issues that can’t be resolved, that’s OK. Now is when we get you in with a mediator, and then I have a mediator work with the party’s for one or two, sometimes three sessions. And then they finish their divorce with Hello Divorce, either by preparing their judgment through the app, or by having a lawyer or legal document assistant prepare the judgment. The mediator is there if they need a mediator, but it’s not the first place that they start.
Greg: It sounds like you, you know, divorce is never fun, but it sounds like you’ve taken the practice of family law in this style at least have made it creative on your site. Which hopefully, I think, is what you were setting out to do, right?
Erin: Yeah, absolutely.
Marlene: I mean, it just seems like it’s more approachable. It’s taking the fear out of going through the steps.
Greg: Yeah, that’s why it’s a gateway drug.
Erin: It’s totally gateway drug. But, you know, I think that, you know, fear is like the worst to human behaviour. When people are scared, they do the absolute most irrational, mean, crazy things. And if we can take down that level of fear even a little bit, it makes for a much healthier divorce.
Greg: Tell us. I was reading where you had recently won an accelerator award. Can you tell us a little bit about that? And what the process and the competition was like?
Erin: Yeah, I’m also like on the market for other accelerator and pitch competitions these days. So spending a lot of time applying to that kind of stuff. But the accelerator program that I was in last year in 2018 was through Duke Law. The closest I will ever get to a top law school. It was so fun. Well, first you have to apply. And then when you were accepted, then you we did a lot of … like I got connected to a lot of great people in the industry and beyond. We got a lot of lessons on, you know, everything from business plans to growing, scaling your company, learning how to pitch, that kind of thing. And then ultimately, we had a demo day where we all presented our businesses, whatever stage they were at. And for competition, this was at Duke Law School, and they had a few different judges from Travelers Insurance and Thompson Reuters and for getting the third… I should be beaten. That was so awesome because it’s one thing to pitch your company at like a Google or one of those places. It’s another thing to pitch it around lawyers and law students and people within the legal industry that get it. Everything from the challenges that are created when you’re learning a new area of law to the ethical issues that we have and the regulatory issues that we deal with all the time. So it was super fun. I wanted to win. I was happy that I did get to win. And I’m excited because …
Marlene: Winning is fun.
Erin: Yeah, they just close their applications this past week, but so there’s a whole new cohort of people that will be in this year’s Duke Law accelerator, and I’m super excited to see who they are and what they’re up to and encourage them along the way.
Greg: Well, congratulations on the victory there.
Erin: Thank you.
Greg: So let us know. How things are going business wise? And and what do you see for yourself and for Hello Divorce and in your next iteration? What do you see on the horizon for yourself?
Erin: Yes. So things are going well in that you know, we’re not having crazy amazing growth, but slow and steady growth. And we are making enough money to pay for our expenses – not our start up costs, I haven’t even begun to chip away at those and that debt over there – but like in terms of like, our regular operations and, which I’m really proud about, especially given the fact that we have had virtually no ad spend that’s been great. And I certainly want to expand into a few other key states. And I really want to take California. That’s very important to me. And by taking it I mean, even 1 to 2% of the divorces in California would make Hello Divorce wildly successful and really put us on the map. So that’s very, very important to me.
Marlene: Very good. Thank you, Erin, for talking with us today. This has been a really insightful conversation, and we wish you luck in your endeavors.
Greg: Yeah, best of luck.
Erin: Thank you. It was really fun being here. I love the podcast. Next time there’s some legal tech meet up, I look forward to seeing you in person.
Greg: Alright. Thanks again. This has been Erin Levin. Who’s the founder and CEO of Hello Divorce. Erin again, thanks for joining us.
Marlene: Thanks Erin.
Erin: Thank you.
Marlene: I really appreciated the time Erin took to speak with us. I know she’s a very busy lady and got a lot on her plate. And I really appreciate the transparency, the honesty, and just being, like, really up front about how this came to be and how they’re moving forward with it.
Greg: Yeah, and I think she should be applauded for looking at something as… and I don’t mean meaning in a bad way… but something as common as divorce and the process and stepping back and creating a new way of approaching it, of assisting people through it, and kind of transforming it. So good luck to her. And I hope that she’s able to expand outside of California and get into the other states and be very successful with this.
Marlene: Yeah, I like that you use the word assist because I really think, again, very common type of thing that happens to many people. And it is a very, you know, painful thing. And there is no assistance, you know? I mean, like, real assistance. Kind of. You know what, somebody through it and holding their hand a little bit.
Greg: I like the way that she put it. If you go to a common divorce website, you know, it’s got two parents trying to, you know, take control of their children. You know, you’ve already got a situation where you have a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of conflict already, so if we can bring that down and make one thing at least somewhat easier, then the better. So again, good luck, Erin and ah, One other side note. We kind of cut this from the interview. But just like us, Erin is a big fan of Molly Wood. Who does Make Me Smart Podcast. So we now have a little side deal that if either one of us should get in contact with Molly that we would let the others know.
Marlene: Yes, Yes. Maybe it’s a little competition going on here.
Marlene: Who gets to her first. Although she’s got a better chance since she’s in Oakland.
Greg: All right, Marlene. Well, that brings us to the end of episode 40.
Marlene: I don’t know how we keep doing it, but we keep doing it. And listeners, please remember to subscribe to The Geek in Review on your favorite podcast platform. You can contact us on Twitter at @gebauerm or @glambert with your comments or suggestions. You can also leave comments or suggestions on the Geek in Review hotline by calling 713-487-7270 Greg: And I am ready to see Marlene’s version of a video sometime over the next couple of weeks.
Marlene: Oh, you’ll see it.
Greg: I’m sure I will.
Marlene: I’m gonna I’m gonna have a band. I’m going to have a band and fireworks. AI Mishap is going to play!
Greg: And as always thanks to Jerry David DeCicca for his awesome music that you hear on the podcast. Thanks, Jerry. I’ll talk to you later, Marlene.