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Pinsents solicitors too busy "stacking tomatoes" to prepare for trial

4 November 2009

Solicitors at Pinsent Masons, who agreed to work for free in Asda supermarkets over the Christmas period as part of a ‘partnership charter’ with the retailer, will be too busy stacking shelves to prepare for a trial, the High Court has heard.

The unusual argument was deployed by Asda’s counsel during litigation brought by opticians Specsavers over an advertising slogan and logo used by Asda to publicise its optical services.

Adrian Speck, counsel for Specsavers, argued that an expedited hearing should take place as soon as possible.

He told the court: “They are trying to suggest they cannot deal with this case because their external lawyers have to work on the shop floor.

“They are really rather busy – the lawyers are stacking tomatoes. I haven’t asked my learned friend which day he is at the checkout.”

Hugo Cuddigan, counsel for Asda, confirmed that solicitors from Pinsents would be working on the shop floor for the company during the Christmas period, including the lead partner working for the client.

“My learned friend may pour scorn on the policy of having executives working on the shop floor, but that is how it does work,” Cuddigan said.

He argued that January would also be a bad time for the hearing because Asda wanted to survey its customers to see if they were confused by the new logo and slogan.

When Asda cut its legal panel from 16 to three last month, Pinsent Masons, Ward Hadaway and McGrigors, signed up to a ‘partnership charter’ requiring any solicitor working for the retailer to work in a store over Christmas for free.

A spokeswoman for Pinsent Masons said one of the terms of the agreement with Asda was that the law firm would not discuss the client with the media.

Specsavers claimed at the High Court that the advertising slogan “be a real spec saver at Asda” would mislead customers and damage its business. Asda agreed to stop using the slogan as soon as possible.

Specsavers also complained that the new logo used by Asda, made up of two ellipses, was too similar to its logo. However, the superstore said it would continue using the logo in its stores and on its website. Mr Justice Kitchin scheduled the trial for April.

Richard Holmes, marketing director at Specsavers, said the firm was pleased that Asda had agreed to remove any reference to being a “spec saver” from its advertising and the court had agreed that an expedited trial should take place in April.

Nik Langrish-Dixon, buying manager at Asda Optical, said: “By taking legal action, they’re just making a spectacle of themselves. We’re simply putting an end to unfair prices and giving all our customers no-nonsense low prices they can trust, whatever their prescription – no nasty surprises, no hidden extras.”

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Trade Discrimination Costs