While there are many, many B2C ratings and review sites where consumers rate and otherwise report their experiences with businesses, there are relatively few B2B sites where businesses rate other businesses. There are multiple reasons for this, but prime among them is that while businesses tend to have a strong interest in using this kind of information, they typically don’t want to supply this kind of information. In short, they see competitive advantage in keeping their vendor experiences confidential.

One fascinating example of this in the legal market is a company called Courtroom Insight. Originally founded with the simple and reasonable idea of creating a website where lawyers could rate expert witnesses (experts hired by lawyers to testify in court), the company hit this exact wall: lawyers didn’t want to tell other lawyers about which experts they did and didn’t like.

Rather than close up shop, though, Courtroom Insights pivoted, in an interesting way. It discovered that large law firms were very sloppy about keeping records of their own expert witnesses. So, Courtroom Insights built a database of expert witness from public sources and licensed data. It then went to large law firms an offered them an expert witness management database. Not only could lawyers search for expert witnesses and verify their credentials, it could flag those experts they used, along with private notes that could be shared freely within the law firm, but not externally.

This pivot created a nice business for Courtroom Insights but it wasn’t done. Since all of its large law firm clients were sharing the same database, but also individually flagging the experts they were using, could Courtroom Insights convince them to share that information among themselves? Recently, they offered this “who’s using who” data to its clients on a voluntary, opt-in basis. And it worked. While not every client opted in, enough did so that Courtroom Insights could make another level of valuable information available.

While this is just my personal prediction, I think Courtroom Insights will ultimately be able to offer the expert witness ratings that it originally tried to provide. How? By using the protected space of its system to let lawyers trade this high-value information with each other. It will probably start small: perhaps lawyers could click a simple “thumbs up/thumbs down” icon next to each expert that could be shared. But I also suspect that if Courtroom Insights can crack the initial resistance to share information, the floodgates will open, because lawyers will realize they are communicating only with other lawyers, and because the benefits of “give to get” information exchange becomes so compelling.

The Courtroom Insights story provides a fine example of the power of what we call the Closed Data Pool in our Business Information Framework. Sometimes data that nobody will share publicly can in fact be shared among a restricted group of participants, with of course, a trusted, neutral data publisher making it all happen.

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