Natural allies or natural adversaries?


Administrators make the trains run on time. Managers decide where they are going.

For the law practice planner this distinction is more than academic. Understanding the interrelation of these functions, especially where the firm is large enough that they are spread across several individuals, is essential if the practice development process or the practice development plan is to succeed.

We can view the difference between administration and management is the distinction between creating the rules (management) and seeing that the rules are followed (administration). The latter implies some level of authority (including the consent of the administered) to fulfill that function.

One way to look at the difference between administration and management is by examining the level of risk attendant to decisions in the exercise of respective functions. Administrative decisions usually have short-term consequences that effect only those individuals or circumstances immediately at hand. On the other hand, management decisions usually have long term consequences and effect the entire firm. As an example, apply the distinction to the firm's public relations policy. Administration might be responsible for the language, timing and distribution of a press release dealing with an individual attorney’s achievement. Management of that policy impacts how the firm is positioned with those who the press release ultimately reaches.

Traditionally, management reserves to itself the determination of vision and mission and delegates to administrate the task of seeing that the firm's goals are achieved. The more rapid the rate of environmental change and the greater the amount of competition the less effective this will be.


The smaller the firm, the more likely the lack of precision in distinguishing these two functions. Many firms have designated a senior staff person as "office manager" while that person has little independent to make and execute decisions.

There is risk in maintaining a management / administration dichotomy. Usually it is administration who as access to important data / information. This information is only useful before it mutates from "intelligence" to history. As an exercise think of a word that positively describes a person who is the last to know.

In analyzing the administrative/management aspect of your firm as part of the planning process, don't rely so much on the job description. It is better to examine the "acceptance hierarchy". By this we mean, who accepts the decisions made by others.


Consider a personal injury firm where the "model" is that every attorney has a secretary and the secretary has discretion to schedule an appointment between a client and the attorney upon client's request but the secretary would never decide to accept or not accept a client presenting a new claim.

Consider that same P/I firm, with a non attorney "triage officer" who is the first contact person with potential new clients. If that person is an information gatherer (administrative) who passes data gathered according to established guidelines to a decision maker that is purely an administrative function, regardless of what the position is called. If that person solely makes the decisions as to which cases the firm takes they fill a management function. The gray area is in between, where the decision is subject to review.

The point is the delegation of "artificial authority". Where artificial authority is delegated to a practice planner or committee, the practice development process has a diminished chance of success.

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