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Zipf’s Law as it might apply to the top law firms in a specialty area

About 80 years ago, a linguist named Zipf found that “the” — the most used English word — occurred about twice as often as “of” (second place), about three times as often as “and” (third) and so on. Others have found similar relationships between the size and frequency of earthquakes and many other natural and artificial phenomena. Brand preferences and spending habits of consumers, according to the NY Times, May 21, 2007 at B3, also exhibit a similar pattern (See my posts of Nov. 13, 2005 on power laws; and Oct. 24, 2005 as they apply to law departments.).

If Zipf’s Law were to apply to law departments and the firms they retain for specialized legal services, law departments might be expected to spend about 53 percent of their outside counsel budget in a given legal-service area on their top choice firm, 20 percent on their second choice firm, 13 percent on the third, and 7 percent on the fourth.

It seems plausible that large law departments, over a period of years, spend in specialty areas of advice roughly in accordance with this ubiquitous and long-established formula.