The retail sector is under attack from escalating consumer demand for e-commerce. All major supermarkets and clothing outlets are having to head online, and even the largest players are facing up to new rivals, mergers, consolidation and takeovers.

The largest deal of 1999 was Wal-Mart’s acquisition of Asda, which saw the US giant pay £6.7bn for the company and created one of the world’s largest retailers in the process. But Marks & Spencer spent last year struggling to stop falling profits and a dwindling market share.

All big retailers are trying to cut the costs of external legal advisers. One company secretary says that she will not use a firm that is working for a competitor, particularly for conveyancing. In such an aggressive market, a rival getting wind of an attempt to buy land can be very damaging.

So for property work, in-house departments often use formal selection processes, while for other work firms are chosen by reputation and more relaxed procedures. Legal departments want lawyers they can build one-to-one relationships with. Lawyers are required to get thoroughly involved in the client’s business and reviews are done rarely and informally. Regional firms gain favour for value for money, but above all, a sound understanding of the sector is what commands the most respect, and the lowest price is not as important as clear billing and a common sense approach.