You can create a Prenuptial Agreement at Hello Prenup without incurring high legal fees. It is another “pure play” law product website. It was brought to my attention when the co-founders, Julia Rodgers, a family attorney based in Boston, and Sarabeth Jaffe, a software engineer based in Seattle, pitched Hello Prenup on Shark Tank last month and secured an investment of $150,000 for 30%, despite having relatively low revenues. I thought this would be a good case study for future law product makers. It is a good example of a law product start-up that is directed at consumers.
By “pure play” I mean a site that is not a law firm and provides a solution to a legal problem that is software-powered with no human service. The business model is one-to-many rather than one-to-one.
I asked Julia what motivated her to start this service. She told me that she had seen up close how the absence of a prenuptial agreement could lead to thousands of dollars in legal fees if the couple decides to untie the knot and get a divorce. She thought there was a better way. She claims that: “Hello Prenup is the first digital platform to allow couples to create a prenuptial agreement in hours, instead of months and for a fraction of the cost.” The average cost of a prenuptial agreement prepared by an attorney is at least $3,000 and upwards. This drive towards creating new ways of accessing the legal system at low cost motivates a new generation of lawyers to think differently.
As a side note, Julia is a graduate of Suffolk Law School’s course in legal technology and innovation taught by Gabriel Teninbaum, who wrote the book on Productizing Legal Work: Providing Legal Expertise at Scale (see review here). It’s nice to see a law school impacting a lawyer’s thinking about improving the delivery of legal services through legal technology.
Prenuptial agreements have become more common among millennials than ever before. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), 51% of lawyers say they have seen a significant increase in the number of millennial couples requesting a prenuptial agreement. The website explains the reasons for a prenup agreement before tying the big knot:
“Couples are marrying later in life than previous generations. More women are in the workforce than ever before, with higher salaries and greater earning potential than other generations. And by the time they do marry, they own more property, may have a higher earning capacity, and in most cases, have more student debt than ever before. It only makes sense that millennial women should have a great interest in obtaining a prenup prior to marriage to protect their assets,” states the website.
How Hello Prenup Works and How It Is Different
There are many legal form websites where a user can use a web-enabled document automation solution to generate a state-specific prenuptial agreement at a low price. (See, for example, SmartLegalForms, Prenuptial Agreement, $39.95, a website I created and have since sold.)
Hello Prenup is not just another legal forms website, however. It is a collaborative platform that facilitates an agreement. It has in-depth content resources that inform the user about state-specific rules for creating a valid prenuptial agreement and educates the users about the entire process.
Once a couple decides to draft their agreement, one creates an account on the website and invites their partner to join. The couple then enters details like their income, assets, etc., and answers questions through an online form within the web browser. After they are finished filling in the necessary details, the next step is the “issue identification process,” where the couples can openly discuss what they want and need from the marriage ahead of time and how all assets are to be split if ever needed. Through this process, issues can be identified and resolved. Once all of the issues have been resolved, an automated document application assembles the Prenuptial Agreement, ready for signing and notarization. The parties have the option of having their attorney review the document before signing.
Hello Prenup is different from the typical legal document generation site as it incorporates a collaborative process that enables the parties to reach an agreement. Instead of one party generating a prenup agreement from an online form site, both parties are invited to list their assets and liabilities and identify points of agreement and disagreement. The process is designed to increase transparency between the parties and accelerate the creation of a valid contract.
The collaborative features of the site and the rich legal content justify the claim that it is the first digital platform for prenuptial agreements.
Cost and Price of Prenuptial Agreements
At $599 per couple, Hello Prenup costs a quarter of what an attorney would typically charge to draft a prenuptial agreement. The going rate for an automated prenuptial agreement is about $40. Time will tell whether the $599 price is too high and whether the additional content and collaborative features will justify the higher price.
Hello Prenup is beginning to gather a following of satisfied clients. A user named John R. left the following review on the website: “My fiancé and I used Hello Prenup in large part because of the cost. We interviewed attorneys who were both expensive and didn’t give us many options in terms of what we wanted in the agreement. We chose to use Hello Prenup both because it lets us do the negotiating ourselves, has many options, and saved a lot of money. We ultimately chose a hybrid option of Hello Prenup and then hired an attorney to give advice on the document after (they didn’t really do anything but this made us feel better). This was most effective and overall we would recommend this service to anyone looking for a quality prenup at a very reasonable price…”
The Value Proposition: Prenuptial Agreements without Lawyers
Eliminating the lawyers from the negotiating process is the key paradigm shift.
The major cost of creating a prenuptial agreement the traditional way is the negotiation between the lawyers representing the parties. Instead of the parties negotiating with each other directly, the introduction of lawyers into the process increases costs substantially, to the point where if both parties are represented, the legal fee cost can be at least $3,000 and often much more. The lawyers, of course, will argue that they bring added value by making sure that each party’s future rights are adequately protected.
In the short term, the high cost of entering into a prenuptial agreement is the cost of two lawyers negotiating on behalf of each party. By making this process a self-help process, the software disintermediates the work of the lawyers. This is not a process that can work for everyone, but for many couples, in the glow of an impending marriage, the goodwill and sense of fairness is at a high point that should lead to easy agreement.
Another major cost savings is in the future – in the form of legal fees saved if the couple faces a divorce. A contested divorce can cost at least $10,000 and often much more. Having a prenuptial agreement makes it much easier for a couple to pursue a non-contested, mutual consent divorce, which is much less expensive, particularly if the parties represent themselves as pro se litigants. The cost for an uncontested divorce with legal advice included is often under $500. Since 50% of couples’ marriages end up in divorce, the cost savings of having a prenuptial agreement up front are substantial, and one would think that having a prenuptial agreement would be a valuable hedge against spending high legal fees in the future.
I have been a long-time advocate for middle-class couples’ funds being better spent in moving on with their lives rather than spending on legal fees. The lowest cost way to get a divorce is to enter into a Marital Separation Agreement and pursue a no-fault divorce representing themselves. Once a divorce becomes uncontested, moving ahead with the actual divorce forms and hearing is primarily administrative. As a result, over 70% of couples represent themselves in uncontested divorces in many states.
Further Productization: New Features to Consider
Here are some ideas that make Hello Prenup a more complete solution.
I can visualize that in time, this brand could add additional software-powered tools that would facilitate an agreement between the parties.
Legal Advice Bots
Legal advice applications (bots) would be a nice addition to the site.
For example, the determination of future spousal support can be complicated and is based on a number of factors and varying future circumstances. There is no easy formula for determining future spousal support. The ambiguity around determining spousal support often calls for the interpretation of case law and thus has always been the province of lawyers.
However, one can envision a legal advice bot determining the party’s right to spousal support depending on different future circumstances. I have created such a bot for my online family law firm website in Maryland, which determines a party’s right to spousal support depending on one’s circumstances, for parties already involved in the divorce process (see Alimony Quiz). This bot was created for parties already involved in the divorce process. Still, it could be re-engineered for a couple who have not yet married and are trying to project future circumstances.
An enhancement of this legal bot concept would be an app that makes financial projections based on different projected future incomes. This bot would require a more complicated algorithm, but I know it is possible to do it as I am now working on this extension of the bot I have already published. I can see other bots that would assist in reaching an agreement on the division of marital property and segregating the marital from the non-marital property.
Related Law Products
The addition of related law products would create additional streams of revenue. For example, estate planning documents such as the Will, Power of Attorney, and Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney are documents that every married couple should have. The brand could either create its own automated documents or incorporate a privately-labeled site from one of the many providers who have already created a basic set of automated estate planning documents.
(See, for example, http://www.onedigitaltrust.com and Everplans.com.)
The Hybrid Business Model
I am a believer that the addition of some human touch to a productized legal service can expand the addressable market. The number of consumers that are comfortable with a pure law product is still relatively small when the stakes are high, and they ultimately resort to an attorney for legal advice and representation.
The addition of limited human service components can result in an expansion of the addressable market.
Prenuptial Agreement Telephone Legal Information Service
So, for example, when I added a free 15-minute legal information/strategy (but not legal advice) telephone call to my law firm website at http://www.mdfamilylawyer.com, we had an uptick in traffic and conversions increased significantly.
Prenuptial Agreement Legal Advice
Another option would be the opportunity for a user to have their document reviewed by an attorney who is a member of the bar in the state where the user is a resident. This could be done by creating a network of lawyers who have experience in providing brief legal advice. LegalZoom, for example, was originally a pure-play law product website, but soon realized that the addition of a network of lawyers would add value and expand the market for their services.
Prenuptial Agreement Mediation Service
Often a couple can get hung up on just one or two issues that prevent them from reaching an agreement. Instead of lawyering up, a 2-3 hour session in which an experienced divorce mediator can assist in resolving the conflict can enable the couple to reach an agreement quickly. The cost of a mediator may be $250-$300 an hour, and a 2-3 hour session is often long enough to resolve all outstanding issues, so the cost is still much less than both parties paying separate attorneys.
Prenuptial mediation could be offline and face-to-face, but these days online mediation may be just as effective and cost less.
Many divorce mediators conduct divorce mediation online through Zoom and other online communication tools.
Hello Prenup could facilitate this process by recruiting and retaining a network of state-based divorce mediators to whom couples could be referred. Not being bound by the archaic legal referral rules of the legal profession, Hello Prenup could take a slice of the revenue generated by the referral, creating another revenue stream.
Online divorce mediation has come a long way since the online divorce mediation project I launched at the University of Maryland School of Law, way back in 1996, when the Web was new and the Internet was just beginning to scale. Change is slow. It only took 25 years for the idea of online divorce mediation to mainstream.
Takeaways for Creating a Niche Law Product Site:
Hello Prenup checks many of the boxes for creating a successful law product site. Future law product makers should carefully note the many content features incorporated into this website.
- The website addresses a niche market on a nationwide basis.
- The domain name incorporates the product within the name.
- The legal problem that it addresses can be digitized into a software-powered solution.
- There is detailed state-specific content on the site that informs the user of the rules that apply in their state for creating a valid prenuptial agreement.
- The use of video is a real plus.
- The publication of a Blog that is specific to prenuptial agreements, and the addition of a podcast, will add immeasurably to SEO and generate traffic to the site.
- The availability of a Guide to Prenuptial Agreements in PDF, available in exchange for a name and an email address, is an excellent way to capture leads for an email nurturing campaign.
- The link to a company like notarize.com provides an example of an online Notary company that has eliminated the hassle tied to having to find an in-person Notary. This availability provides for a complete solution and a possible additional source of referral revenue.
Future Projections for Hello Prenup
The founders still have their work cut out for them. They estimate that sales will be $4,000,000 next year. I think that amount is overly optimistic as conversion rates from website traffic to a sale are still low, ranging from .05 – .01%. Thus, to generate $4,000,000 in revenue, the site would need to generate about 75,000 unique visitors a month in traffic, or about 900,000 unique visitors a year. Let’s say this translates into about 8,800 sales at $495 each, after promotional discounts, to get to $4,000,000 in revenue. The company will have to expand quickly to every state to achieve this level of sales.
I plan to check in with them next year to see how they are doing.
Further discussion and comments about this website are welcome in our discussion group on LinkedIn.