Eight months after vowing to stay together as Dewey & LeBoeuf collapsed around them, the defunct firm’s former Italian lawyers are no longer a united front.
A new 35-lawyer corporate and finance boutique, Gattai, Minoli and Partners, spun off at the start of the year from Grimaldi Studio Legale, the firm that emerged weeks before Dewey filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 28, 2012. In the split, two former leaders of Dewey’s Italian operations, mergers and acquisitions lawyer Bruno Gattai and corporate lawyer Stefano Speroni, are headed in different directions for the first time since Dewey launched in Italy in 2003.
As Gattai tells it, the past year has been a challenging one. “When this disaster happened, everything was very, very difficult to handle,” he told The Am Law Daily in a recent interview. “Instead of jumping away and trying to join other firms, we tried to preserve the group. We were the only office of Dewey that decided to go in this way.”
Last spring, the roughly 120 lawyers working in Dewey’s Rome and Milan offices decided to form under the name of Italian legal legend Vittorio Grimaldi, whose own firm voted to dissolve in late 2011 nearly a decade after Grimaldi left Clifford Chance in a high-profile split. Grimaldi, now in his 70s, struck a deal for the group to use his name and for a number of lawyers from his firm to join the former Dewey team.
Soon after helping create the new firm, Gattai and his colleagues had to deal with another bureaucratic headache: Negotiating with Dewey’s bankruptcy advisers. (The Italian office, while a separate entity under Italian law, was a member of Dewey’s U.S. limited liability partnership.) The partners were asked to participate in the so-called partner contribution plan that would free them from future Dewey-related liability in exchange for the return of money received from Dewey in 2011 and 2012, Gattai says, adding that the Italian lawyers were also asked to help collect on outstanding bills and to give the estate a cut of the proceeds from work still in progress.
In the end, the Italian team agreed to pay €5.3 million ($7.1 million), with €3.4 million ($4.6 million) coming from the Grimaldi faction, and €1.9 million ($2.6 million) coming from Gattai’s firm, according to court filings. The Italian branch also owes the Dewey estate another $1 million for disputed property and unfinished business claims, the filings show.
Gattai says he started to consider branching off over the summer after deciding that what he describes as the stress of the firm’s first few months had begun to compromise the firm’s culture. After talking to a few larger firms, he and 34 others, including former Dewey partners Nicola Brunetti, Gaetano Carrello, Stefano Catenacci, and Luca Minoli, started a new firm focused almost exclusively on M&A and finance work. All told, Gattai Minoli has 12 partners, two of counsel, and a team of associates.
“After one year of real disaster,” Gattai says, “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The new venture has already been busy. Earlier this year, lawyers from the firm, including Gattai, worked with Kirkland & Ellis to advise Bain Capital and Clessidra in the $1.49 billion sale of Italian credit report and business information company Cerved Group to CVC Capital Partners. (As The Am Law Daily noted, the two law firms also advised CVC on the financing of the deal.)
In the last quarter of 2012, meanwhile, Gattai-led teams also worked for eyewear company Salmoiraghi & Vigano as it restructured bank debt and sought out a new minority investor in a deal valued at €200 million ($267.6 million); for PM & Partners in the acquisition of a controlling share of stock in food maker Monviso for an undisclosed amount; and for Fondo Strategico Italiano in the €200 million ($267.6 million) acquisition of stock in Metroweb Italian.
As for Gattai’s former colleagues, Speroni says he and the others at the Grimaldi firm are “doing exactly as we did before”— specializing in corporate, litigation, labor, and antitrust work. He is one of five members of a new management team that includes Grimaldi, who still comes to work and advises on firm matters. All told, the firm has 105 lawyers, including 11 equity partners and another 11 described as junior partners. Speroni says the firm is the fourth-largest in Italy and plans to get bigger by adding to its offices in Rome, Milan, and Brussels. One Grimaldi partner, energy lawyer Lorenzo Parola, is expected to leave soon for Paul Hastings. U.K. legal publication The Lawyer first reported the news, confirmed by a Paul Hastings spokeswoman.
“Dewey in Italy has always been absolutely profitable,” Speroni says. “Contrary to what happened, Italy was the only one in which the entity continued without any problems. Even now with the spin-off, the effect is that there are two excellent firms in the Italian market. We kept our business without reducing anyone, any staff, and we are very proud of it.”