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Ask your law firms to introduce their clients who can improve your company’s business

Sainsbury’s general counsel Nick Grant has challenged the eleven firms on his legal panel to compete against each other in a novel way. He asked the firms introduce their other clients to Grant so they can pitch a new product or service to be sold on the supermarket’s shelves. Five of the companies will present their ideas to a group of Sainsbury’s directors, who will choose one winner.

In total, Sainsbury’s reviewed 16 pitches. Ideas included a fizzy drink called Carbonaid, which would put a portion of profits into carbon reduction schemes, a business selling designer chairs, an IT company and an entrepreneurial school.

Grant said that the initiative, which he intends to run annually, is more than just a distraction from the serious business of solving legal issues. “[The question is] how does our legal community add to Sainsbury’s?” he said. “Community is about the flow of ideas, not just me sucking value out of a firm then dispensing with it. Firms will hopefully be proud of [having referred] clients in these hard times.”

A general counsel who asks the department’s primary law firms to help build the company’s business gives a new twist to the notion of the department as a “profit center” (See my post of April 27, 2008: profit center with 18 references.).

Hats off to Patrick McKenna who passed on this interesting item from Legal Week.