Legal Career Resources

Associates Must Be Careful around Partners
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Summary: Associates need to remember to keep themselves beneath the partners they work for, not letting their ambition take on too much power.

Attorneys have a delicate task of getting their work done and making those above them happy. Harrison Barnes explains in “Why Attorneys Who Do Not Make the Attorneys Who Give Them Work Feel Important Can Destroy Their Legal Careers” this important lesson that attorneys need to understand.


Attorneys just starting out in a law firm have an important job of catering to the needs of the partner they work with. This partner is responsible for the work the new associate receives. Should the partner become upset with the associate, they can give them menial work or hold back work from them, making the associate look bad to others at the firm.

Being under the protection of a law firm’s partner can be an invaluable benefit. Associates are often hired by a law firm to work with a particular partner because that partner selected the associate for a variety of reasons. Partners quite often develop close professional relationships with their associates but that is all the relationship is – professional. The partners may divulge their family information to the associate and spend time outside the office, causing the associate to think there is a friendship beyond work.

Associates also feel the need to impress the partner in the beginning but as the familiarity grows, they don’t feel the need to keep impressing the partner. The associate is dedicated, producing quality work for the partner that the partner acknowledges with gratitude and respect. Eventually the relationship can crumble as the associate takes the partner’s affection for them for granted and the partner gets too comfortable having the associate work under them.

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Too often associates begin to feel that they need to branch out and impress other partners because their partner will protect them. The associate feels that they are valued over other associates because the treatment they have received from their partner. They start taking on more responsibilities and finding their voice, even if it disagrees with their partner. They may start taking credit for most of the work by voicing this to the law firm and to clients, making the partner look bad. The associate develops a feeling that they are entitled to partnership and even “running the firm.”

A socially intelligent associate knows not to flaunt their intelligence in front of partners because it creates insecurity in the partners. This smart associate will see after a few years the big picture and that they are prepared for it. They feel that they can solve clients’ problems better than the less intelligent partners around them and start to be eager to show off their intellects. Partners may pretend to appreciate the associates insight for a bit but the partner is really feeling insecure about their position so the easier solution is to get rid of the associate.

There are a lot of social aspects to consider when working for a partner. The best option for associates is to expose as little as possible about their personal life and personal feelings. An associate that assumes they are better than the partners they are working for will not get far.

Do you think associates that know they are more socially intelligent than those around should be trying to move around often so as not to burn bridges too much? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about the associate partner relationship, read these articles:



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