The recognitions keep stacking up for Emeryville, Calif., attorney Erin Levine and her do-it-yourself divorce platform Hello Divorce. Earlier this year, the American Bar Association awarded her its James I. Keane Memorial Award for Excellence in eLawyering, and just a few months before that, the practice management company Clio named her recipient of its 2019 Reisman Award for legal innovation.
But even as Hello Divorce has been widely recognized, it has not been widely available, limited until now to helping users with divorces in California. That is about to change, as Levine is embarking on a plan to roll out Hello Divorce sites in every U.S. state. Within a month, she will launch in Colorado, followed not long after by sites in Utah and Texas. While the rollout to other states will be gradual for the first year, she expects that to accelerate by the second year.
Levine is partnering with the company Access to Justice Tech and its founder Joseph Scheiffer to build out the technology required for the expansion. In each state into which she expands, she will be recruiting lawyers, mediators and document assistants to help with cases.
“Both Hello Divorce and A2J Tech are committed to making consumer-facing areas of law accessible to the ‘masses’ with a keen focus on the ‘middle class’ who often earn too much to qualify for legal aid organizations but don’t have enough funds to obtain quality and meaningful legal help,” Levine told me.
Hello Divorce is a direct-to-consumer legal platform that gives users access to the Divorce Navigator, a web application launched in May 2019 that guides users through the divorce process from start to finish. It integrates with the document-generation software Documate to produce all required forms, and it includes features such as interactive checklists and tutorials.
Hello Divorce charges users monthly fees based on their choice of one of four membership levels. These levels range from true DIY at $99 a month to “divorce with benefits” at $700 a month, which includes two hours of coaching with a lawyer.
Users of the site can also opt to purchase upgrades on an a-la-carte basis that include various legal services, as well as divorce mediation and form filing with courts.
Levine started Hello Divorce in 2017 as part of her law firm, the Levine Family Law Group, and spun it off as a separate company last year. The lawyers who provide legal services through Hello Divorce work for Levine’s law firm.
Hello Divorce also uses legal document assistants to help users in preparing and filing forms. While California permits these affiliated professionals to prepare legal documents, not every state does, and that has been part of the hurdle Levine has had to overcome to expand to other states.
Gradual Rollout At First
In fact, Levine said, it was the combined challenges of navigating ethical landmines, handling marketing and building out multiple versions of the platform that had kept her from expanding into other states. But as the site has seen recent month-to-month growth of 10% or more, she has been able to build out her management team. Between the added help and her partnership with Scheiffer and his company, she is ready to move forward.
“What makes it complicated is that the product has to change from state to state depending on whether they allow non-legal professionals to act without lawyer supervision,” Levine said. She retains an ethics lawyer and will adapt the product as needed to conform to each state’s rules.
The rollout will be gradual the first year, adding another state every three-to-four months. But as she is able to standardize the rollout process and make improvements to the technology platform, she expects the rollout to accelerate.
As she expands into states, she will be hiring and contracting with lawyers, mediators and document assistants to help with cases. Levine says working with Hello Divorce is a good way for lawyers who are just starting out on their own to bolster their practices.
Levine said she’s been discussing expansion with friends and colleagues for months now, and those conversations always ended with them saying, “Maybe it will work.” In her mind, there is little “maybe” about it.
“We know the model is working in California — consumers are happy and lawyers are making money,” Levine said. “At some point, you just have to press go.”