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Allocating Effort and Talent in Professional Labor Markets

Author

Listed:
  • Barlevy, Gadi

    (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago)

  • Neal, Derek

    (University of Chicago)

Abstract

In many professional service firms, new associates work long hours while competing in up-or-out promotion contests. Our model explores why these firms require young professionals to take on heavy work loads while simultaneously facing significant risks of dismissal. We argue that the productivity of skilled partners in professional service firms (e.g. law, consulting, investment banking, and public accounting) is quite large relative to the productivity of their peers who are competent and experienced but not well-suited to the partner role. Therefore, these firms adopt personnel policies that facilitate the identification of new partners. In our model, both heavy work loads and up- or-out rules serve this purpose. Firms are able to identify more professionals who can function effectively as partners when they require new associates to perform more tasks. Further, when firms replace experienced associates with new less productive workers, they gain the opportunity to identify talented professionals who will have long careers as partners. Both of these personnel practices are costly. However, when the gains from increasing the number of talented partners exceed these costs, firms employ both practices in tandem. We present evidence on life-cycle patterns of hours and earnings among lawyers that support our claim that both heavy work loads and up-or-out rules are screening mechanisms.

Suggested Citation

  • Barlevy, Gadi & Neal, Derek, 2016. "Allocating Effort and Talent in Professional Labor Markets," IZA Discussion Papers 9858, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp9858
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jonathan Levin & Steven Tadelis, 2005. "Profit Sharing and the Role of Professional Partnerships," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(1), pages 131-171.
    2. Dora Gicheva, 2013. "Working Long Hours and Early Career Outcomes in the High-End Labor Market," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(4), pages 785-824.
    3. Suman Ghosh & Michael Waldman, 2010. "Standard promotion practices versus up‐or‐out contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 41(2), pages 301-325, June.
    4. James B. Rebitzer & Lowell J. Taylor, 2007. "When Knowledge Is an Asset: Explaining the Organizational Structure of Large Law Firms," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25, pages 201-229.
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    Cited by:

    1. Radoslawa Nikolowa & Daniel Ferreira, 2018. "How to Sell Jobs," Working Papers 846, Queen Mary University of London, School of Economics and Finance.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    up-or-out; long hours; screening;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J44 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Professional Labor Markets and Occupations
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • M51 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Firm Employment Decisions; Promotions

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