Power and control in a law department

“Control is a central theme in organization theory, economics, and business history,” according to Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (Harvard Bus. School Press 2006) at 68. One of the most influential postmodern philosophers, Michel Foucault, saw power animating every act, and privileged elites protecting their power (See my post of June 11, 2006: men and women and power; and Jan. 19, 2008: bullying is power run amok.).

In a law department, power normally means the right of a supervisor to tell others what they must or must not do. Power may include being able to hire and fire, and to award more or less compensation. Power is vertical in subordinate/boss relationships. Power in a law department also manifests itself when someone controls access, like the Executive Assistant to the General Counsel, or has specialized and needed knowledge. It is possessed by anyone who can change another person’s responsibilities, or who can promote or block promotions.

Power permeates law departments, as in any workplace. Wielded adroitly, it unites and enables employees; misused, power corrupts.

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