Thoughts on references by general counsel on partners and vendors

A previous post wonders whether some general counsel, called as a reference for work done by a partner at a law firm, give less glowing reviews than are deserved, because they do not want their access to that partner to be diluted. Why praise, and risk access to, someone you perceive as a proprietary resource (See my post of Feb. 6, 2007: withheld good references.)?

Yet, many law departments willingly share the names of their go-to firms (See my post of Nov. 11, 2007: different viewpoints on disclosure of most-used firms.). Perhaps a difference lies between naming a firm, which may teem with hundreds of partners, and naming or discussing a specific partner. Either word can leak back about what was said or the partner can surmise. Additionally, a partner may feel it proper to call the reference before the call, and that can be awkward.

Few law departments keep close to the vest the vendors they use, but that is because generally they appreciate the network effects of enlarging their vendors’ user bases (See my post of Nov. 13, 2007: network effects and law department management.). Software to an economist is a network good, the value of which rises the more other people use it. A solid law-firm partner is a rivalrous service, to be enjoyed by only one person at a time (See my post of July 31, 2006: non-rivalrous goods and services.).

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