The importance of back benching

LegalJob has recently been asked what quality or qualities make a law firm associate successful.

What comes to mind is the importance of so-called "back benching."  In law school, back benching referred to the student who chose not to be seen and stay out of the professor’s view so he or she would not get hammered with the Socratic Method.  This method was rarely successful of course because law professors tended to spare no one.  But the concept has value in the law firm world. 

The successful associate back benches in the following way:

  • The associate recognizes he or she is in a supporting role with the responsibility of making the partner look good and providing him or her all of the necessary tools (i.e., research, memos, etc.);
  • The associate does not take credit for hard work, getting to the bottom of an issue, or original ideas;
  • The associate recognizes that the above is expected and therefore does not deserve special recognition;
  • The associate recognizes that if there is an opportunity to take credit, that credit should be shared with others whenever possible;
  • The associate recognizes that generally it is the partner that is to be seen and heard, not the associate (such that the associate is mindful of his or her place on conference calls and in client meetings with the partner); and 
  • The associate makes sure he or she understands how the partner prefers to be supported in these settings (and before and after these events, i.e., should the associate prepare a follow up memo and send to the partner for forwarding to the client). 

Image courtesy of smokedsalmon at