Law departments as “complex systems”

In the 1930s, Karl Popper, a philosopher of natural and social science, introduced the notion of society as an unpredictable complex system. At a smaller scale, the economy is a quintessential example of a complex system. According to William A. Sherden, The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions (John Wiley 1998) at 69, “Complexity refers to the phenomenon of order emerging from the complex interactions among the components of the system influenced by one or more simple guiding principles.”

My question: do the principles, summarized below, mean that large law departments qualify as complex systems.

“Complex systems have no natural laws governing their behavior at either their micro-level (individual humans) nor their macro-level (the economy); thus, complex systems cannot be scientifically predicted.” Certainly no legal department obeys “laws of management.”

“Complex systems cannot be dissected into their component parts, because the systems themselves arise from the numerous interactions among the parts.” This blogger overwhelmingly believes that our understanding of legal departments will only come with a holistic sensibility, not a reductivist, piece-meal picture.

“Complex systems are so highly interconnected with numerous positive and negative feedback loops that they often have counterintuitive costs-and-affect results.” If managers fully understood boomerang effects, they might quail (See my post of May 28, 2009: unintended consequences with 8 references.). Conversely, good things beget good things.

“Complex systems exhibit periods of order and predictability, punctuated by unexpected moments of self-generated turmoil.” That might pretty well sum up what many members of legal departments feel, especially when key members leave, policies change, leadership shifts, and other internal traumas shake the tree.

“Complex systems adapt to their environments and evolve, exhibiting new behaviors that can invalidate previously established theories.” Put simply, people change and modify their behavior (See my post of Oct. 1, 2006: George Soros and reflexivity.).

“Complex systems have no fixed cycles; their histories do not repeat themselves.” No legal department ever returns to a previous state.

We welcome comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *