K&L Gates has continued its geographic expansion, merging with an Italian firm to launch a new office in Milan and the firm’s first in the European country.

The acquisition of Marini Salsi Picciau Studio Legale starts off K&L Gates’ presence in the city with three partners, three associates and three trainees.

K&L Gates has added several new offices a year over the past few years, picking up small groups or firms to expand its geographic footprint abroad rather than conduct the large-scale mergers it underwent in the United States in early 2009 and before.

The Milan location comes on the heels of office openings in Warsaw, Tokyo and Moscow during 2010 and Brussels, Doha, Qatar, Sao Paulo and Charleston, S.C., in 2011.

The firm seems to see opportunity in a market that has recently seen political upheaval and a downgrade in its credit rating.

“In 2012 and years forward, the great powers of Europe will seek to balance sovereign prerogatives with the imperatives of a single currency,” K&L Gates Chairman Peter J. Kalis said in a statement, pointing out that Italy is the world’s eighth-largest economy and Milan is the country’s industrial and financial center. “Against this changing backdrop, clients will need, and will receive from K&L Gates in Milan and our other European venues, the best possible legal advice.”

New partners Giampaolo Salsi, Pasquale Marini and Alberto Picciau and their team will assist Italian clients with their business interests globally, the firm said. The office, in combination with K&L Gates’ existing capabilities, will be able to handle legal work in the areas of corporate, mergers and acquisitions, infrastructure projects, restructuring and bankruptcy, and litigation and arbitration, among other practices.

Martin Lane, K&L Gates’ managing partner for Europe, said in a statement that “the creation of this new office further increases our European transactional and disputes capability and enables us to assist clients in another major economy.”

Salsi, who concentrates his practice on corporate and commercial matters, will serve as administrative partner of the Milan office.

Ward Bower of Newtown Square, Pa.-based consulting firm Altman Weil said most firms looking to expand in Europe first look to London, then Germany and then France. More recently, he said, firms have looked to Spain.

“Italy’s been a difficult market for a lot of U.S. and U.K. firms in the sense that the market is relatively small, the firms are small and a lot of mergers have come undone in Italy over the years, but that’s not a reason not to go there,” Bower said. “Sometimes the time to buy is when the market’s down.”

And no matter what can be said of Italy’s current struggles, the country is still a big European economy, following only perhaps England, Germany, France and Spain, Bower said.

“There are a lot of good clients there and they’re being served by relatively small firms,” he said.

Italian firms don’t grow very large in terms of headcount, he said, because either mergers fall apart or indigenous firms that do grow end up splitting up.

“It’s a volatile market in that sense, but for a firm like K&L, it makes sense to be there if you can find the right partner,” Bower said. K&L Gates “is pretty careful about that.”

He said the firm has been successful growing in places like Paris and Germany not by doing the biggest deal but by doing the right deal.

There are no other Pennsylvania-based firms with offices in Italy, though some firms with a presence in the state do have footholds in the European country. DLA Piper has offices in Rome and Milan. Jones Day opened a Milan office in 2001. Greenberg Traurig has created strategic alliances with firms in both Rome and Milan.

Other U.S. firms with a presence in Rome, Milan or both include Dewey & LeBoeuf, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Latham & Watkins, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.