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The Return to Knowledge Hierarchies

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  • Luis Garicano
  • Thomas N. Hubbard

Abstract

Hierarchies allow individuals to leverage their knowledge through others' time. This mechanism increases productivity and amplifies the impact of skill heterogeneity on earnings inequality. To quantify this effect, we analyze the earnings and organization of U.S. lawyers and use the equilibrium model of knowledge hierarchies in Garicano and Rossi-Hansberg (2006) to assess how much lawyers' productivity and the distribution of earnings across lawyers reflects lawyers' ability to organize problem-solving hierarchically. We analyze earnings, organizational, and assignment patterns and show that they are generally consistent with the main predictions of the model. We then use these data to estimate the model. Our estimates imply that hierarchical production leads to at least a 30% increase in production in this industry, relative to a situation where lawyers within the same office do not "vertically specialize." We further find that it amplifies earnings inequality, increasing the ratio between the 95th and 50th percentiles from 3.7 to 4.8. We conclude that the impact of hierarchy on productivity and earnings distributions in this industry is substantial but not dramatic, reflecting the fact that the problems lawyers face are diverse and that the solutions tend to be customized.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12815.

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Date of creation: Jan 2007
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12815

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Cited by:
  1. Ali Hortacsu & Chad Syverson, 2009. "Why Do Firms Own Production Chains?," Working Papers 09-31, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  2. Steven N. Kaplan & Joshua Rauh, 2010. "Wall Street and Main Street: What Contributes to the Rise in the Highest Incomes?," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 23(3), pages 1004-1050, March.
  3. Maria Guadalupe & Julie M. Wulf, 2008. "The Flattening Firm and Product Market Competition: The Effect of Trade Liberalization," Harvard Business School Working Papers 09-067, Harvard Business School.
  4. Frank Limehouse & Robert McCormick, 2011. "Impacts of Central Business District Location: A Hedonic Analysis of Legal Service Establishments," Working Papers 11-21, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  5. Carlo Altomonte & Armando Rungi, 2013. "Business Groups as Hierarchies of Firms: Determinants of Vertical Integration and Performance," Working Papers 2013.33, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  6. Luis Garicano & Thomas Hubbard, 2009. "Earnings Inequality and Coordination Costs: Evidence from U.S. Law Firms," Working Papers 09-24, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  7. Ann P. Bartel & Ciaran S. Phibbs & Nancy Beaulieu & Patricia Stone, 2011. "Human Capital and Organizational Performance: Evidence from the Healthcare Sector," NBER Working Papers 17474, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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