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
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
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