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Hierarchies, Specialization, and the Utilization of Knowledge: Theory and Evidence from the Legal Services Industry

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  • Luis Garicano
  • Thomas N. Hubbard

Abstract

What role do hierarchies play with respect to the organization of production and what determines their structure? We develop an equilibrium model of hierarchical organization, then provide empirical evidence using confidential data on thousands of law offices from the 1992 Census of Services. The driving force in the model is increasing returns in the utilization of acquired knowledge. We show how the equilibrium assignment of individuals to hierarchical positions varies with the degree to which their human capital is field-specialized, then show how this equilibrium changes with the extent of the market. We find empirical evidence consistent with a central proposition of the model: the share of lawyers that work in hierarchies and the ratio of associates to partners increases as market size increases and lawyers field-specialize. Other results provide evidence against alternative interpretations that emphasize unobserved differences in the distribution of demand or 'firm size effects,' and lend additional support to the view that a role hierarchies play in legal services is to help exploit increasing returns associated with the utilization of human capital.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10432.

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Date of creation: Apr 2004
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10432

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  1. Calvo, Guillermo A & Wellisz, Stanislaw, 1979. "Hierarchy, Ability, and Income Distribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 991-1010, October.
  2. Radner, Roy, 1993. "The Organization of Decentralized Information Processing," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(5), pages 1109-46, September.
  3. Bolton, Patrick & Dewatripont, Mathias, 1994. "The Firm as a Communication Network," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(4), pages 809-39, November.
  4. Paul M Romer, 1999. "Increasing Returns and Long-Run Growth," Levine's Working Paper Archive 2232, David K. Levine.
  5. Luis Garicano & Thomas N. Hubbard, 2003. "Specialization, Firms, and Markets: The Division of Labor Within and Between Law Firms," NBER Working Papers 9719, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Alchian, Armen A & Demsetz, Harold, 1972. "Production , Information Costs, and Economic Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(5), pages 777-95, December.
  7. Carmichael, H Lorne, 1988. "Incentives in Academics: Why Is There Tenure?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(3), pages 453-72, June.
  8. Jacques Cremer, 1980. "A Partial Theory of the Optimal Organization of a Bureaucracy," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 11(2), pages 683-693, Autumn.
  9. Sherwin Rosen, 1982. "Authority, Control, and the Distribution of Earnings," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(2), pages 311-323, Autumn.
  10. Raghuram G. Rajan & Luigi Zingales, 1998. "Power In A Theory Of The Firm," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(2), pages 387-432, May.
  11. Raghuram Rajan & Julie Wulf, 2003. "The Flattening Firm: Evidence from Panel Data on the Changing Nature of Corporate Hierarchies," NBER Working Papers 9633, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Qian, Yingyi, 1994. "Incentives and Loss of Control in an Optimal Hierarchy," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(3), pages 527-44, July.
  13. Van Zandt, Timothy, 1999. "Real-Time Decentralized Information Processing as a Model of Organizations with Boundedly Rational Agents," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(3), pages 633-58, July.
  14. Calvo, Guillermo A & Wellisz, Stanislaw, 1978. "Supervision, Loss of Control, and the Optimum Size of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 943-52, October.
  15. Luis Garicano, 2000. "Hierarchies and the Organization of Knowledge in Production," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(5), pages 874-904, October.
  16. Rebitzer, James B, 1993. "Radical Political Economy and the Economics of Labor Markets," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 31(3), pages 1394-434, September.
  17. Roy RADNER & Timothy VAN ZANDT, 1992. "Information Processing in Firms and Returns to Scale," Annales d'Economie et de Statistique, ENSAE, issue 25-26, pages 265-298.
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