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Much-maligned bureaucracy also has a positive contribution

I have always assumed that a bureaucratic organization stifles creativity, fosters dissatisfaction, and de-motivates employees. Never assume! Some organizational researchers present positive aspects of bureaucracy. It provides guidance for workers, clarifies responsibilities, and reduces stress.

This more balanced view is important to bear in mind because all law departments operate with a certain amount of bureaucratic controls. There are forms, decision rules, guidelines, unquestioned practices, and hierarchies. Those bureaucratic manifestations help members of the department know what they must do and allow them to devote their energies to other areas and what they might do. Job descriptions are part of formal procedures; as are operating manuals. Another key premise of bureaucracy is that rank has its privileges. Rules abound, but some people like operating within a system of rules – after all, what is our common law system but an elaboration of rules?

Those with a bias against bureaucracy need more nuance, with an appreciation that rules and approvals and directives create positive benefits (See my post of Oct. 22, 2006: sclerotic bureaucracy; March 8, 2009: larger departments tend to be more bureaucratic; and June 21, 2006: my libertarian opposition to requirements.). What we malign as bureaucratic rules and procedures channel efforts to activities that have higher value.