Ashursts forges Italian alliance

Ashurst Morris Crisp has moved into Italy by forming an alliance designed to lead to merger in two years with the former Milan practice of US firm Graham & James.

Negri-Clementi, a seven-partner Milan-based firm, with satellite offices in Rome and Verona, demerged from Graham & James at the beginning of this year so that it could form the alliance with Ashursts.

One partner, Gabriele Bernascone, and an associate remained with Graham & James.

The firm is now calling itself Negri-Clementi Ashursts for marketing purposes, though its official title will be “Negri Clementi Montironi & Soci in associazione con Ashurst Morris Crisp”.

The move is part of Ashursts' continuing strategy to concentrate on building European practices, rather than struggle for US capability.

Last October it opened a small Frankfurt office and now has a German partner. Early this year it also recruited a Belgian lawyer to its Brussels office as partner.

Negri-Clementi partner Paolo Montironi said that his firm had merged with Graham & James five years ago because at the time it looked as if Italian companies would expand rapidly in the Far East.

“But it wasn't the case. It became a relationship which didn't have sufficient long term prospects,” he said.

He added: “Graham & James are more focused on the Far East and Pacific rim and very weak in Europe.”

Negri's mergers and acquisitions partners, who represent Italy's privatised steel industry, the Ilva group of companies, got to know Ashursts at the end of last year when Ashursts advised Mutsui & Co on purchasing an Ilva-owned mining company.

The firm is currently advising Credito Italiano on its merger with Unicredito, to create Italy's largest bank.

The Ashursts deal with Negri-Clementi removes Graham & James' only remaining presence in Europe.

Its affiliation with top five German firm Haarmann Hemmelrath & Partner ended when Haarmanns took a Milan partner from Graham & James at the end of last year to open its own Milan office.

Taylor Joynson Garrett's eight-year-old affiliation with Graham & James remains, but its own affiliation with Haarmanns was ended at about the same time as Graham & Jones'.