Socializing with service providers: take you out to the ballgame?

Culture-Fit-artSo, this is not really an invitation. But it could be. I’m not sure. Would you like one? I seek your input on the pros and cons of socializing with outside service providers.

Earlier this month, I wrote a column for Inside Counsel addressing corporate social activity among current and potential employees, especially at the executive level. I probably came down a little too hard on a perfectly nice golf outing, but I wanted to address the ongoing challenge of accessing diverse pools of talent, and going beyond existing comfort zones to do so.

My thoughts on social functions with service providers are less clear. This is because I am not objective on the topic. I enjoy socializing with our clients, and I want to engage in any activity that helps build relationships.

I am also mindful that in-house counsel are the ones drafting corporate gift and entertainment policies, so you are also setting the standard of what is OK and what isn’t. For example, an in-house friend was offered Stanley Cup playoff tickets by outside counsel. His company’s policy (a Fortune 100) basically said “no” if it’s a gift of tickets, but “OK” if the service provider joined him. It would have been the latter, so technically he could have gone, but it “felt too generous” and so my friend declined, even though he is a huge hockey fan.

I recently attended a fireside chat with the general counsel of Starbucks, Lucy Lee Helm. She said she declines frequent baseball game invitations, not because of any gift policy or dislike of the sport, but simply because she would rather go with friends and family if going to a game. It’s nothing personal, but she would rather talk business in a business setting. I believe many general counsel feel this way.

  • How do you feel about social invitations from service providers?
  • Do you enjoy getting the invitation?
  • How often do you say “yes” and what are your parameters?
  • Do you decline all invitations and prefer to keep business completely separate?

I realize this is mainly a case of individual preference and “know thy client,” but I think it’s an interesting topic for discussion. Get us started with a comment, and I’ll invite you to lunch for sure. Nothing controversial about a nice lunch!

Side note: Also nothing controversial about shouting out a loud public congratulations to one of my favorite clients, Doug Beck. Doug was recently promoted to general counsel at Hub Group, and Cate has a really nice Counsel Q&A profile of him. Since Doug is a pilot, is it OK for him to fly us somewhere really cool for a celebratory lunch? Would Evers Legal be allowed to pay for the airplane fuel?

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