Spread of managerial effectiveness as law departments become bigger because of more threats and opportunities

The more lawyers in a legal department, the more choices its general counsel and managing attorneys can make. With 100 lawyers the number of initiatives, decisions, permutations of structure and process, and investments are uncountable. Because of that profusion, some departments excel; other departments languish or decline.

With 10 lawyers, a general counsel’s degrees of freedom narrow dramatically. He or she can only do so much in terms of assignments of responsibility, recruitment and retention, allocation of budget to initiatives, benchmarking, and all the other leadership possibilities available in the larger department. At two or three lawyers, the flexibility of a manager shrinks to relatively very little. Managerial scope, and therefore outcomes, expand exponentially with increased size.

That said, and recognizing that total legal spend as a percentage of revenue as well as lawyers per billion grow smaller as legal departments grow bigger, it is likely that that overall dispersion of management effectiveness widens with size. In every population, extremes become more extreme as you add members. The long-tails of both excellence and weakness extend further out than with a collection of comparable but smaller departments. Managerial scope expands the possibilities of success and ineptitude.

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