In 2011 consultant Bruce Mac­Ewen thought he had a solution to an intractable problem: finding the best law school graduates for firms without relying on the traditional rigid on-campus recruiting system. Inspired by the matching process used to place medical students in residencies, he and his business partner, Janet Stanton, created JD Match, a website that allows firms and students to rank their interest in each other and pairs students with the firm most likely to hire them. The site launched with great fanfare, earning praise from The Wall Street Journal and legal media outlets, who saw its potential to cut out the inefficiency in the current process.
But two years later, JD Match has failed to make much of an impact. The 6,000 job-seekers who have created profiles on the site outnumber the seven participating firms—Allen & Overy; K&L Gates; Morrison & Foerster; Pepper Hamilton; Proskauer Rose; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr; and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati—and represent only a fraction of the nation’s 140,000 law students. Of those firms, only Allen & Overy would speak on the rec­ord about how it has used the site, and it’s unclear how many students have actually been matched and hired.
The reluctance of law firms to embrace change, coupled with a postrecession slowdown in junior attorney hiring, appears to have thwarted MacEwen’s plans to disrupt an industry in need of disruption. And while the on-campus interview process is still universally disliked, conversations with recruiting partners, law school career deans and law firm associates suggest that JD Match may never become the panacea its founders had hoped it would be.
MacEwen and Stanton acknowledge that the site hasn’t taken off as quickly as they thought it would. “We are not remotely satisfied with the size of our membership,” says MacEwen. (In addition to the seven firms, two other firms and one in-house department use JD Match in a customized capacity and have requested anonymity, he says.) “It’s a network-effects marketplace,” says MacEwen, who calls himself an armchair economist. “We really think that once we reach a certain critical mass, firms will begin to say, ‘I can’t afford not to be on there.’”
Stanton says the past two years have been a learning process. “Even though we know law firms don’t like change, we underestimated that, frankly,” she says.
Sari Zimmerman, head of the career office at University of California Hastings College of the Law, says that while JD Match presents an interesting idea, “the demand has to be there on the firm side for this to be successful.” So far, she says, UC Hastings hasn’t looked into the site extensively or encouraged students to participate. “If firms perceive it adds value, it could work,” Zimmerman says. “But the proof is in the numbers.”
In response to the low participation rate, JD Match is in the process of hiring a small marketing and sales staff to more aggressively promote the site. JD Match has also forged partnerships with Above the Law, Chambers Associates and student membership organizations such as National Black Law Students Association. In addition, law schools can sign on as members at no cost to lend what MacEwen calls a “seal of approval” to the site.
In the meantime, the company is trying to find ways to enhance JD Match to give employers a way to go beyond resumes when scouting potential recruits. A new function allows students to upload videos, and the site is tinkering with adding personality tests. Both MacEwen and Stanton say they aren’t seeking to fully replace the on-campus interview system but to enhance it by creating a method that doesn’t rely on actually visiting schools and that can be used year-round.
Dave Lewis, a tax partner at Allen & Overy and cochair of its recruiting committee, says his firm has used JD Match to find out more about the interests of students it’s already identified through on-campus recruiting. “We haven’t been using it a lot for sourcing students independently,” Lewis says. “For the foreseeable future, we [will] view it primarily as a source of additional information.”
In addition to failing to meaningfully change the profession, JD Match has also failed to make a profit for its founders, who say they’ve funded the venture with proceeds from their more successful consulting outfit, Adam Smith, Esq. Initially, JD Match planned to charge students $99 for access to the site, but the company backed away from that plan weeks later, amid complaints that it was taking advantage of unemployed, debt-saddled would-be lawyers. Now students can join for free or upgrade to a premium membership for $49. Law firms pay an annual membership in the range of $20,000.
As it waits to see if the JD Match concept will catch on with law firms, the company is also expanding into new territory: the contract, temporary and staff attorney market. Rather than paying a staffing agency, firms can pay a lower fee to search profiles on JD Match and recruit these lawyers directly. “This is something that fills a need” that isn’t being met currently, Stanton says.
MacEwen said he hasn’t ruled out eventually expanding the site into lateral asso­ciate recruiting, but that there are only so many projects they can roll out at a time. “We’re in this for the long run,” says MacEwen. “It’s simply, in our view, the way the world is moving.”
But the question is: Will the world decide to move with them?