How an Attorney-turned-Entrepreneur is Using Legal Technology to Reshape Divorce LawDownload This Article as a PDF
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Levine Family Law Group / Hello Divorce
Number of Staff
Started Using Clio
Emeryville, CA, USA
Erin Levine, Levine Family Law Group + Hello Divorce
Despite running the successful and growing Levine Family Law Group, Erin Levine, Esq., decided to pivot and create a sister company, Hello Divorce, offering Do-It-Yourself products and services to thousands of Californians navigating the legal system without representation. By using the Clio Suite, Erin is able to coordinate all aspects of her legal practice, seamlessly connect the firm to her divorce navigator business, and scale her company so it can reach its full potential.
In 2019, Levine Family Law Group won Clio’s Reisman Award for Legal Innovation.
When a divorce firm marries a tech startup …
Erin Levine, Esq., is the Owner and Managing Attorney of Levine Family Law Group, a full-service, million-dollar divorce and family law practice that has served California’s Bay Area since 2009. In its 10 years of existence, the firm has consistently grown by combining the expertise, skills, and resources of a large firm with the efficiency, flexibility, and personalized attention of a smaller practice.
But for Erin, merely creating a successful law firm wasn’t enough—she wanted to reach the larger segment of her community that had unmet legal needs. Specifically, Erin identified an opportunity to provide Do-It-Yourself products and services for people who were struggling to navigate their way through the difficult process of divorce.
Erin founded her startup, Hello Divorce, as a sister company to the law firm; clients could access Hello Divorce’s subscription-based divorce navigator services, and if they ended up needing more hands-on legal assistance, Erin could easily transfer them into the Levine Family Law Group system.
A vision based on legal technology
Erin’s broader vision is to transform the way people experience divorce by scaling her company to reach a much larger segment of the population, and to empower other law firms to integrate their services with Hello Divorce the way that Levine Family Law does.
Legal technology—and Clio, in particular—is essential to everything Erin is trying to do, both with her firm and with her business. Between Levine Family Law and Hello Divorce, Erin uses the entire Clio Suite, comprised of the industry’s leading cloud-based legal practice management software, Clio Manage, and Clio’s client intake and legal CRM (client relationship management) software, Clio Grow.
With Clio, Erin sees not only a set of legal software tools she can deploy to run her firm and business more efficiently—she sees the potential of a long-term partner that will grow and adapt as her companies do, providing her with the confidence and support she needs to keep pushing boundaries and driving innovation.
One firm, one business, one mission
“What we do best is make the law behind personal relationships more human, accessible, and affordable,” Erin says, and the description applies equally to Levine Family Law and Hello Divorce.
“In so doing, we’ve been able to capture the leads that would ordinarily be passed over, provide services that meet our consumers where they’re at, and help bridge the access to justice gap.”
Erin, a Certified Family Law Specialist, has practiced in the East Bay area since 2005. She has been recognized by Super Lawyers five years in a row, won the Duke Law & Tech Accelerator’s Grand Prize in 2018, and in 2019 she was named a Fastcase 50 Honoree, as well as one of the American Bar Association’s “Women in Legal Tech” list.
How it all began
As a lawyer, Erin founded Levine Family Law Group to handle Northern Californians’ marriage, divorce, and family law needs.
“We’re full-service. We do everything from fixed fee, unbundled services to complex litigation on a billable hour,” she says.
“Then I have Hello Divorce,” she adds, “which is an online platform offering legal help and wellness support. That has both legal services and products connected to it.”
Hello Divorce launched in January of 2017, and its web application, Divorce Navigator, came out in May of 2019.
“We were being pushed by our community to provide more cost-effective, human-centered services,” Erin explains. “I wasn’t able to do that with the firm in a way that made financial sense for us. So, I had to figure out a way to automate most of the process and be innovative.”
By creating Hello Divorce, Erin met the community’s need and, simultaneously, created a new revenue stream with tremendous financial potential.
“Divorce is a really complex, often messy and scary process for people,” she says. “So I like the idea of being able to provide products and services that help people navigate that process, making it hassle-free and low-stress. Sometimes, they even come out of it feeling better about themselves, and excited about that next chapter.”
How it works
At Hello Divorce, clients who use the web application pay a monthly subscription fee that they can cancel at any time. If they need legal coaching or assistance with legal documents, they can pay a flat fee for those services.
Erin breaks down the logic of the business model: “When you have an uncontested divorce, we know approximately how much it’s going to cost. So, it’s little risk to us—but big profit.”
Sometimes, Hello Divorce’s clients require more assistance. When that happens, Erin has an innovative process in place.
“While we take the conflict down at Hello Divorce, and we make things really transparent with our awesome tools for document automation and our web app, you’re still dissolving the most complex financial contract of your life,” she says. “When clients need legal help, they can pay through the Hello Divorce platform. They can sign the retainer agreement through the Hello Divorce platform and schedule through the Hello Divorce platform, but then they get a Levine Law attorney.”
When clients transition from Hello Divorce to Levine Family Law, all of their email correspondence and documents are easily transferred into the Clio Suite using Clio’s integration with Microsoft Office 365—giving Levine Family Law’s attorneys the ability to instantly access documents that the clients created on their own through Hello Divorce’s app. That way, the attorneys can jump right in without wasting time.
“Ordinarily, a client who was navigating the system on their own or with an LDA would have to essentially start over with a lawyer,” Erin says. “Levine Family Law and Hello Divorce’s unique partnership allows for a seamless transition.”
Where it’s headed
For Erin, this partnership between family law firm and legal tech startup is more than a one-time solution—it’s the future of her practice area. And Clio’s family law software figures prominently into her plans:
“At Hello Divorce, ultimately what we’re trying to do is scale into not only every state but, when people do purchase legal services, we want them to have the ability to be able to work with many other lawyers,” she says.
“So, right now, just with what we’ve created and what Clio’s created, we’re able to easily use the Clio Suite to seamlessly transfer clients from Hello Divorce to Levine Law Group. But, ultimately, we want to be able to integrate using Clio’s API (Application Programming Interface) so that it becomes this branded and scalable company.”
According to Erin, Hello Divorce has “this huge possibility” because there aren’t many other (if any) good Do-It-Yourself options for divorce clients in states outside of California, and there likewise aren’t services that connect clients directly with law firms if they need additional legal help.
This is where Erin’s goals for Levine Family Law, Hello Divorce, and for the legal industry all coincide—she wants to use technology to create a better experience for her clients, enable a wider range of people to access legal services, foster a healthier work-life balance for her employees, and, in her words, “disrupt the industry and start changing things that really need to be changed.”
“My biggest focus right now,” she says, “is seeing how far we can take this, and how we can change the culture of divorce.”
A new form of legal practice
Hello Divorce is having a profound effect on the way Levine Family Law operates, and in how Erin’s staff achieves success.
In the past, Erin used to worry about lawyer burnout at her firm. Linking her firm with Hello Divorce has allowed her staff to find more enjoyment in their day-to-day work.
“If you ask our lawyers what it is that they enjoy, it’s helping people,” she says. “Obviously they want to make a good living, and that’s important to all of us, but what really matters is helping people get through the system and have as positive a result as they can.”
“The more work I can pass to my attorneys through Hello Divorce, the less likely they are to burn out, and the more likely they are to have a fulfilling workday. So, there’s two pieces there. When I put on my business hat, I want to see Hello Divorce become huge and national and maybe even beyond that. When I put on my Levine Law hat, I recognize that we’re still shaping the way legal services are performed in our own community—and one of the ways to do that is to make sure that our staff’s mental health and wellness is well taken care of.”
Upgrading the traditional models of legal service delivery
Erin feels that this kind of hybrid legal practice model will be key for the future of the industry. In her mind, law firms need to innovate because the expectations of legal consumers are changing, and because advancements in technology will enable legal professionals to operate differently than they ever have before.
For Erin, Levine Family Law is a sort of guinea pig for her to try new things that she feels can drive the profession forward.
“I’m using my law firm as my lab,” she says. “I’ve been doing divorces for 15 years, and I find that most cases are driven by this conflict that lawyers have no tools or resources to know how to bring down. Quite frankly, most lawyers aren’t motivated to bring down the conflict because they’re paid on the billable hour, and more conflict means more money.”
“I’m challenging the legal profession to say, ‘Guess what? You can make as much money or more, and have a much more satisfying and healthy career, by trying this new way of delivering legal services.’”
Thanks to her approach, Erin’s staff has been able to focus more on helping clients on a human level, and tackling important tasks—rather than spending their time on tedious administrative activities like billing and filing documents.
By the numbers
“I have lots of statistics,” Erin says, largely because she tracks her firm and client data through Clio Grow.
Though Hello Divorce is a young company, Erin says it’s already breaking even—and the company’s potential to scale, volume of clients, and amount of profit per consumer are already high.
Approximately 50% of Hello Divorce’s clients currently go on to require some level of legal work through Levine Family Law, and most of their cases are low-conflict and pleasant to resolve because the clients Hello Divorce attracts tend to be eager to move through the divorce process as smoothly as possible.
On the firm side, gross receipts are down—but income is up. “We don’t have to gross $2 million anymore to make a really good living,” Erin says. “You know, somewhere between $100 to $400,000 a year, depending on who the lawyer is, which is really what I’m looking at. I don’t want us to have to work the kind of hours that we once did.”
On the Hello Divorce side, Erin is proud that 92% of divorce clients that have come to the company have resolved their divorces through Hello Divorce.
“They might have had a little coaching on the side, but we are not simply an attorney referral service,” she says. “We are taking down conflict. We are helping people through the process.”
“I think the average length of divorce in the United States is somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 months—and we are finished divorces within six months.”
As Erin describes it, Clio’s products and staff are an integral part of Levine Family Law and Hello Divorce’s success:
“I definitely wouldn’t have been able to take the time out from my firm, managing my firm, to start a whole new company without Clio.”
And it’s fair to say that Erin and her teams truly use the entire Clio Suite.
Clio Manage was the first Clio product Erin incorporated into Levine Family Law, but before that happened, the firm used a different legal practice management software (one of Clio’s competitors)—with unsatisfactory results.
“It wasn’t working for the clients, and it wasn’t working for us, because we needed something that was much more robust and had much more capabilities,” Erin says.
“There were a lot of things that Clio Manage offered us that the other practice management systems can’t—or just can’t do well.”
One thing that Clio Manage enabled Levine Family Law (and later Hello Divorce) to do was to diversify its fee structure beyond the billable hour to include flat fee options.
With Hello Divorce clients who transfer to the law firm, Clio Manage allows clients to have a better, more efficient experience.
“People pay for one hour or five hours or 30 minutes of our time, and they can use it however they want,” Erin explains. “The problem that we had before was that people didn’t know when they were close to being up with their time. So, the way we have it set up in Clio Manage is we are able to have a budget, and the clients are notified when they’re reaching 75% or 80% of their budget, then they’re directed back to Hello Divorce to purchase more time if that’s what they want. Or, they can just be more mindful of the time that they have left. Then, once that’s completed, they’re given an invoice to show how their time was used.”
Erin says Clio Manage has made the process of transferring clients from Hello Divorce to Levine Family Law simple and easy, especially because Clio Manage enables her to brand invoices as either being from the firm or the business.
She also says her staff have gotten so comfortable with Clio Manage, that some members of the firm don’t even bring physical case files to court anymore—they just keep everything on Clio Manage on their tablets, and that’s how they practice.
“Clio Manage allows us to manage both the Levine Family Law Group’s billable hour cases and Hello Divorce flat fee cases with ease,” she says. “When we want to run reports on conversions, profits from Hello Divorce referrals versus Levine Family Law cases—it’s easy. We’ve utilized Clio Manage’s custom fields feature so that we can sort through the different types of cases and referral sources.”
Clio’s App Directory (Integrations)
By leveraging Clio’s technology to cut down expenses, Erin has been able to offer clients lower pricing—with high value—while maintaining a high profit margin.
One of the keys to this has been Clio’s ability to integrate with other software applications, thanks to its open API. By leveraging Clio’s comprehensive App Directory—which now includes over 200 different applications—Erin is able to add capabilities to her firm and sync them all, using the Clio Suite as her central platform, or hub.
“We use all of Clio—the reports, Clio Draft, the integrations with Dropbox, Google Drive, Outlook 365, Apptoto. All those integrations mean that we don’t have to duplicate our efforts … which would ordinarily be a huge time drain, and super expensive. It was stuff that I was hiring a virtual assistant to do that I don’t need to do anymore.”
As for Clio Grow, Clio’s client intake and legal CRM software, Erin says, “It makes the whole intake process so easy.”
“It makes us look really good to consumers,” she adds, “because right away they’re easily getting the intake form, they’re being onboarded into our system, they’re getting text message updates—or emails, if that’s what they prefer. So, it’s a really good start to the process.”
“It shows that we have our act together—and that’s what people want, especially with such sensitive information.”
Before Clio Grow, Erin says for years she was spending a lot of money on marketing and advertising, and was receiving hundreds of leads each month—but the firm wasn’t converting many leads into paying clients, because they had no process for following up with potential new clients.
“Our process was that a paralegal, if she had time, would return the phone call and try to set an intake appointment,” she explains, “and the potential client would have no information other than the fact that they might get this appointment two weeks from now.”
Now, Erin barely spends anything on advertising. Naturally, the firm receives fewer leads than before—but it converts them into paying clients at a much higher rate than it used to.
“Our ‘lead to attended’ rate—the rate at which we can get potential clients in for a meeting after an initial call—is 42%,” Erin says. “Of those, our conversion rate—the rate at which they retain our firm—is between 40% and 50%.”
“For a personal injury firm, that would be terrible—for a family law firm, that’s actually quite good. I wasn’t tracking data before Clio Grow, but I’m embarrassed to say that it was easily 10% or less.”
Before Clio, people had to leave Erin voicemails, and she’s not sure if there was even a Contact Us form on her website. If there was, she says, people would have emailed her, and maybe she would have responded to them, maybe not.
“Now,” she says, “I know exactly what is happening with every lead that comes in. It immediately goes into Clio Grow, and we watch it so that we see where it ends up going—which is amazing, not only to capture these leads and make more money, but also to see if we’re getting good leads.”
“Clio Grow lets us know if we’re getting the right leads, if they are the type of clients we want, and if they are actually converting to paying clients. Because if not, then things need to change, and they need to change quickly.”
Redefining the meaning of divorce
With her combination of Levine Family Law Group and Hello Divorce, Erin is aiming to usher in a new era of divorce and family law across the legal industry—and Clio figures prominently in her plans for creating this change.
Her vision is not without its detractors, however, as some lawyers are threatened by Do-It-Yourself legal services like Hello Divorce.
“We get two big complaints from lawyers,” Erin says. “One is, ‘You’re going to take our business.’ And the other is, ‘You can’t possibly offer a Do-It-Yourself that is going to be meaningful and get people through a divorce.’ Those are the two big things.”
“As far as taking their business, I think, first of all, there will always be plenty of divorces that are going to be contentious and need a much more robust lawyering deal. I’m also not doing anything that they can’t do as well.”
“Secondly,” she says, “The more that I have helped people to understand on social media how important lawyers are, and that we’re not taking them out of the process—we’re just making them the focus of the process—the more support that I have generated from other lawyers.”
Creating change in real time
At her own firm, Erin has witnessed a positive shift in her staff, who have become more innovative and more inclined to take calculated risks.
“Everyone’s sort of starting to think more like founders, taking responsibility and accountability for what their professional lives are going to look like,” she says. “I think it’s exciting. It definitely feels different than it did even a few years ago.”
Long-term, Erin is looking to harness the potential of Clio’s open API to bring Hello Divorce to as many clients and law firms as she can.
“The one thing that I really trust with Clio is that it’s only going to get bigger and better,” she says. “So, as I grow, Clio is growing. And Clio is really supporting us in the innovative community. That sold me—that piece of Clio really wanting to see us change with society, and change the system.”
“Clio wants to see us do this,” Erin concludes.
And so far, it’s sure been something to see.