The devolution of authority from central to regional and local governments is a widespread trend in many countries. Differences in the outcomes of devolution reforms are often significant, between countries as well as within a country. The work reported in this paper assumes that the dynamics of the implementation process and the way it is affected by the national tradition of governance and by the features of the politico-administrative system is important in explaining such differentiation. The paper investigates devolution in Italy and proposes explanations for the substantial differentiation of outcomes that can be observed. The case of devolution in agriculture in Lombardy, investigated in depth in the article, is striking for the magnitude and rapidity of change as well as for the way the reallocation of the workforce to the lower levels of government has occurred. This case study provides the basis for some theorizations about the dynamics of devolution processes in countries that have a legalistic administrative tradition, especially those nations which have a ‘Napoleonic’ administrative tradition.