Liking law firm partners for quality of work, cost-effectiveness, and results can blur into liking partners personally, or degenerate to liking them because of reasons not related to their merits. Rewarding friends, doling out fees for benefits, indulging in favoritism: it happens.
How might a general counsel guard against selections of counsel that are not merit based (and, by the way, the more senior the lawyer the more opportunities and fewer guards)? You can have choices of counsel vetted by a more senior lawyer; you can set strictures against the use of incumbents; you can make sure evaluations of law firms come from several lawyers; you can look at patterns of use in matter management systems; you can mandate new blood for some percentage of fees. Then too, you can hire scrupled lawyers.
In the end, the inside lawyer remains responsible for the performance of the outside partner. Poor choices of partners, driven by reasons apart from quality and cost, will at some time burn the retaining lawyer. As the general counsel, you don’t want bad results to spotlight favoritism in hiring firms, so consider some of the precautions noted above.