Somerfield appoints its first ever national panel

Somerfield is putting together its first national panel of law firms.

The supermarket retailer, which has 1,200 stores and more than 30 warehouses and distribution centres across the UK, is appointing firms across the country to advise it.

Previously it took advice from different firms on an ad hoc basis, but insiders say its recent merger with Kwik Save led to its decision to appoint a national panel.

Offers to join the panel have been sent to regional and City firms.

In the City Masons and Titmuss Sainer Dechert, in Bristol Eversheds and Osborne Clarke, in Liverpool Bullivant Jones & Company, in Hull Gosschalks, and in Leeds Garretts, have been offered places on the panel.

Somerfield expects them all to accept the offers, but only Osborne Clarke has done so to date.

According to head of commercial property at Osborne Clarke, Simon Speirs, the national spread of firms on Somerfield's proposed panel indicates that supermarkets are beginning to look further afield than the City for legal advice.

He adds that there is a shake-up in general of how supermarkets are viewing their relationships with lawyers. He says Sainsbury's scrapping of a 50-year arrangement with Denton Hall last month so it could seek advice from Linklaters illustrates this.

Speirs says: “I think that the supermarket industry is more sophisticated now than ever before.

“It is looking for greater value. Just look at what happened with Sainsbury's, and Marks & Spencer is reviewing its legal panel. It is all part of the loosening up of the chains of the retail industry.

“Non-City based firms are now getting a look in. I think it is because clients have more pressure on them to find the best deal.

“In retail, pressures are worse than in most other industries because it is being squeezed more.”

Somerfield refuses to comment on why supermarkets seem to be changing their legal strategies, but the company solicitor Susy Jepson says: “In making our appointments to the panel we are looking for retail experience, flexibility and responsiveness.”