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Abstract

The Conditions of Discretion: Autonomy, Community, Bureaucracy, by Joel F. Handler.* New York, N.Y.: Russell Sage Foundation, 1986. 327 pages. $27.50.

Lawyers misunderstand bureaucrats. They suppose that an adversary system in which clients demand "their rights" from recalcitrant public officials will produce beneficial results. They cast the bureaucrat as the "enemy." In The Conditions of Discretion: Autonomy, Community, Bureaucracy, Professor Handler argues that the adversarial approach is the wrong way to mediate the relationship between the individual and the welfare state. Adversarial procedures designed to resolve particular, self contained disputes by impartial decisionmakers are unsuited to the long term, fluid relationships between individuals and government bureaucrats that characterize many public programs. These controversies simply cannot be "decided" once and for all by neutral outsiders. In the educational system, for example, students are educated in public institutions for several hours per day over a twelve-year period by people trained as teachers. A student who brings even a successful lawsuit against a school risks making his or her situation worse by antagonizing teachers, locking the school into a rigid court-mandated judgment, and generating a decision that does not reflect the special nature of the educational process.

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