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This is not just any property legal team… explore how M&S manage their large retail estate portfolio

"We can give our external counsel a head start as Orbital Witness is a common frame of reference for many law firms"

Carolyn Lock, Head of Property Legal

Marks and Spencer is a major British multinational retailer with hundreds of stores across the UK. A key part of their transformation programme is building a store estate that’s fit for the future with industry-leading store operations and empowered colleagues.

Carolyn Lock, Head of Property Legal, and Nick Tassoni, Real Estate Solicitor, manage the legal aspect of the store estate and relationships with their external counsel.

We spoke to them about some of the challenges of managing a large and complex retail estate portfolio, particularly during a time of rapidly changing consumer demands.

 

The challenge

“We get a large number of questions from the Estate Management team and store colleagues. With over 1,000 stores in the UK alone, the range of questions and properties vary hugely and can include questions such as ‘Who owns the adjacent property so we can contact them about an overhanging crane or scaffolding? Can we use this road for deliveries? Who is responsible for the maintenance of this boundary? Who owns the freehold to the Centre’. The UK lockdown and resulting restrictions added a stream of new questions from stores on how they could best provide a safe environment for shoppers. Be it setting up queuing systems or rain tunnels or reduced capacity and longer opening hours. ‘Can we set up queues in this area? Who owns it? What land can we rent for queues? Can we extend delivery times?’. These questions were amplified during Christmas, our busiest trading period, and along with the changing UK restrictions we had to be incredibly nimble. ‘Where can we drop refrigerated trucks containing extra turkeys ? Where have we put them in the past? Can we extend car park opening hours to accommodate increased demand?’.

When looking at Official Copy documents and sporadic data sources it can be hard to understand the context of a question posed, identify the right titles and then explain this to non-legal colleagues. Colleagues understandably need answers promptly and we also need to enable the company to manage its assets for the future so that we can continue to transform how our stores serve customers as their expectations rapidly change.”

"We’re not needlessly incurring fees, we can handle more work with a smaller team and allow other Orbital Witness users within the business to self-serve"

 

Our solution

“Orbital Witness allows us to handle the large volume of queries we get from colleagues. We’re able to instantly dive into the detail and provide quick responses in real-time so that we can help colleagues deal with issues now, without trawling through original documents or instructing external counsel on every query that comes our way. We are also able to empower our users to self-serve before they approach Legal, particularly if exploring a proposal at an early stage. Questions may also arise during team meetings. Using Orbital Witness we’re able to confidently share our screen and answer them there and then. We can then follow up with an Orbital Witness plan to ensure colleagues understand and can action our advice with ease."

"Orbital Witness has empowered us to answer questions quickly on the spur of the moment and share in real-time. We actively encourage colleagues to come to us with questions!"

 

The result

"Orbital Witness has empowered us to answer questions quickly on the spur of the moment and share in real-time. We actively encourage colleagues to come to us with questions! We’re able to highlight risks at an early stage without having to engage in full reports or searches. Our colleagues are therefore able to progress their work sooner, as well as getting a richer understanding of the issue and solution. This also means we’re not needlessly incurring fees, we can handle more work with a smaller team and allow other Orbital Witness users within the business to self-serve.

Another benefit is that we’re able to steer the company at the fast pace it requires. In a sometimes paper-heavy legal industry, Orbital Witness has helped us become a truly “digital-first” property legal team. The retail environment is rapidly changing. We need to ensure our stores can flex to meet and exceed customer expectations. We have a wonderful, varied and complex estate. Orbital Witness enables us to capitalise on asset management opportunities so that the estate can be fit for the future.

With the inability to travel to sites during lockdown, the Estate Management team have loved the outputs we’ve shared with them. So much so, they’re now using Orbital Witness themselves to virtually explore sites, start to answer their own queries and create shared projects with us so we have a head start when investigating more complex issues. In the same fashion, we can give our external counsel a head start as Orbital Witness is a common frame of reference for many law firms including some of those we regularly instruct.”

 

m&S