As a general counsel, administering compared to managing or leading a law department

An interview of Thomas Russo, who became the general counsel of AIG in early 2010, appears in Corp. Counsel, Dec. 2011 at 18. In addition to being a senior executive of the company he views his role as having another component: “administering a department that has approximately 1,400 people in it, about 500 lawyers, and has outside legal fees of slightly south of $500 million (not including claims).” Russo’s choice of the term “administering” interests me, but I may be indulging in semantic hair-splitting.

The term “managing a law department” appears much more commonly than “administering” a department. Russo conception and terminology takes a very high-level view: “Administrative means looking at all the different legal, regulatory, and compliance functions. Making sure that the right people are there.” To administer is to be concerned with the highest-level of structure and function, and that the right lieutenants are in charge. “Managing” means dirtier hands, to some degree shoveling at the coal face. And “leading” evokes inspiration, charisma, crisis and vision (See my post of Dec. 29, 2008 #1: compares business plan to strategic plan like management to leadership.). These definitional niceties may be over-wrought or they may touch on meaningful distinctions between three views of the top lawyer’s managerial role.

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