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Corporate lawyers don’t usually show up on the Forbes list of richest Americans, but they rank surprisingly high in Italy. On a list of the country’s top 1,000 earners of 1998, released last year by the Italian Ministry of Finance and posted on the Internet by Milan-based Panorama magazine, the highest-ranking lawyer was Franzo Grande Stevens of elite boutique Grande Stevens-Pedersoli in Milan and Turin. Grande Stevens earned 15 billion lire, or about 7.5 million dollars. At 16th in the country, he ranked one notch above media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who at press time was expected to be the next prime minister, and 53 notches higher than his own most important client, auto magnate Giovanni Agnelli. Meanwhile, Bonelli Erede Pappalardo Studio Legale name partners Franco Bonelli and Sergio Erede both finished in the top 40. Each of the three firms widely regarded as BEP’s top competition for premium financial work had representatives in the top 100, with earnings near or beyond $3 million: Francesco Gianni of Gianni, Origoni & Partners; Michele Carpinelli of Chiomenti Studio Legale; and Giulio Tremonti, a tax professor who is affiliated with Grimaldi Clifford Chance and is expected to be the leading economic adviser in the Berlusconi government. Lawyers below the top partner level don’t fare nearly as well. A new law school graduate might make $9,000 a year (up 50 percent since the British invasion). The salary rises to around $24,000, excluding a 10 or 20 percent bonus, after a few years of practice and admission to the bar. Senior associates make around $60,000. A junior partner might pull in $150,000 at an Italian firm or $200,000 at a British firm. “That’s the Italian formula — incredibly low associate wages, and senior guys who don’t fit on our compensation grids,” says one Anglo firm manager who spent years searching vainly for an Italian merger partner. “Clifford Chance sucked it up and paid Grimaldi.” Indeed, when Clifford Chance merged with Grimaldi, The Wall Street Journal reported, the firm agreed to pay five Grimaldi partners compensation above the top Clifford Chance level. The Italian wage structure makes underpaid junior partners easy to recruit. Francesco Gianni, whose firm had more lawyers on the top 1,000 list than any other law firm, is keenly aware of this dynamic. His firm has roughly doubled its number of partners in two years to 27. And the ratio between the earnings of the top three partners and the bottom five partners — now one to four — is likely to decrease. Says Gianni: “It’s the price you pay for building an institutional firm.”

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