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International Firms Gaining Ground in Italy
The American Lawyer
As debuts go, Latham & Watkins' launch of an Italian law practice is one of the more striking in recent memory. The hire, announced Nov. 22, of a five-partner finance and corporate team from local leader Bonelli Erede & Papparlado brings the U.S. firm its first Italian-qualified lawyers, a Rome office and a boost to its Milan office, previously home to just a handful of associates.
Latham's Bonelli hire, plus Linklaters' recent Italian hiring spree, may be the early signs that U.S. and U.K. firms are succeeding in a market in which international firms have always had a hard time finding a foothold. Since the start of the year, the Magic Circle firm has been busy raiding rivals to ramp up its corporate and finance teams in Italy.
Latham is not exactly new to the Italian market. Partner Michael Immordino, who is Italian-born but educated and qualified in America, has been dividing his time between London and Italy since moving from the United States in 1995. He has grown a team of around 15 attorneys focused on the English and U.S.–law end of Italian deals, acting for Latham clients such as The Carlyle Group and local bank Banca Intesa. Now, with the Bonelli team on board, winning the Italian end of those deals becomes a real possibility for Latham.
Of the new Latham hires, banking specialist Andrea Novarese, the most senior of the Bonelli quintet, and corporate partners Fabio Coppola, Simone Monesi, and Maria Cristina Storchi will all be based in Milan, while corporate partner Tomasso Amirante will head up the new Rome office. "We think these guys are fabulous," raves Immordino. "It's taken us a long time to enter the market, but we were concerned about attracting top-quality lawyers," he added. As Latham's and Linklaters' recent hires show, Italian lawyers are increasingly game to make lateral moves.
Linklaters originally staked its Italian strategy on an alliance with local market leader Gianni, Origoni, Grippo & Partners in 1999. Since Gianni Origoni's top earners, including name partner and corporate rainmaker Francesco Gianni, earned far in excess of Linklaters' top partners, merging the Italian operation with the U.K. firm's lockstep compensation system was always an unlikely prospect -- and would be even now, when the U.K. firm's average profits per partner are £1.29 million ($2.65 million).
After Gianni Origoni split from the alliance in 2004, Linklaters opted for the inherently more sensible option of picking off talented younger -- and cheaper -- partners. In September the U.K. firm announced the hire of Bonelli corporate partner Luca Piccone, following the earlier capture of corporate specialist Giovanni Pedersoli from Pedersoli e Associati in July and rated finance expert David Mencacci from Allen & Overy at the start of 2007.
While Gianni Origoni has remained at the top of the Italian market since the alliance with Linklaters ended in 2004, the Italian firm has seen its own dramatic upheaval. In November a group of 95 attorneys, including 17 partners, announced it was breaking off from the firm over strategic differences such as hiring policy and the emphasis placed on billable hours. The departure left Gianni Origoni with around 250 fee earners.
It was a significant blow for one of Italy's leading independents. However, as Immordino points out, "You can't write off people like Francesco Gianni." It will take a few more Latham-style raids for the international firms before they start enjoying la dolce vita.