Published on:

A “positive quarter-power law” may quantify how much more innovative larger law departments are than smaller departments

Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation (Riverhead 2010) at 9-10, explains a fascinating study of cities around the world. The study gathered data on creativity and innovation, such as patents, R&D budgets, “supercreative” professionals, and inventors, and found that a quarter-power law operates positively. (In math terms, that means the population raised to the fourth root, or to ¼. If the population were squared, it would be raised to the exponent 2, but this is raised to the exponent 1/4.) “A city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn’t ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative. A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town was 130 times more innovative.”

The explanation Johnson gives rests on the energetic exchange of more ideas, among more people, with the greater incentives and resources inherent in size. The logic of that size-fueled synergy surely applies also to larger law departments: a richer soup of hunches, experience, opportunities, talent, brilliant or hare-brained ideas, data and everything else that sparks creativity and innovation.

Having ventured this extrapolation, I wonder whether the lawyers have to be co-located, or can the boost from size come about even if they are located all over the globe? I also sniff still another reason why total legal spending drops off with increased revenue.