Professional Competence Is a Condition Precedent to Effective Management-An Argument for Practice Leaders in Legal Service Organizations

Manuel Jimenez


There is an unstated argument with an unsettling currency in today’s organizations: Those that can’t do, lead. The concept of management has devolved from a position that facilitates productivity and navigates workplace challenges, to a type of “bullshit job.” To adherents of this philosophy, competence in one’s vocation, profession or business is unnecessary in order to excel as a manager in that vocation, profession or business.

In professional environments technical competence in one’s occupation is a condition precedent to good management. Technically competent managers come to positions of leadership with occupational gravitas. Occupational gravitas is forged from experience and imbues those who possess it with the confidence to effectively navigate the challenges confronting their organization. It is earned from experience dealing with the particular challenges of one’s occupation.

Leadership skills are an adjunct to the occupational competence necessary for good management in professional environments. The concept that leadership skills are separate and apart from occupational competence, rather than ancillary to it, in the execution of good management is herein explicitly rejected.

People placed in positions of authority who lack experience, or are otherwise incompetent, bring with them not gravitas, but fear. Fear is the primary element from which springs management failures, and through which such failures are expressed. Incompetent leadership is not only dangerous to legal service provider organizations and their employees, but also exposes clients to dire consequences. In a legal services environment, bad management really is a public protection issue.

The model of a “practice leader,” is the paradigm through which legal service organizations can model their management style. A practice leader is both an accomplished attorney as well as a leader. Practice leaders understand the work and the environment in which it is produced. This is important because it is they and the organization that are ultimately responsible for the work of their subordinates. Failure of leadership in a legal service environment can not only lead to litigation but could also lead to professional discipline when subordinates engage in misconduct.

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International Journal of Law and Public Administration   ISSN 2576-2192 (Print)     ISSN 2576-2184 (Online)

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