Brief encounter: studio tonucci

For Studio Legale Tonucci, one of Italy's largest independent law firms, it is time to sit back, draw breath and consolidate.

This year has brought rapid growth for the young ambitious firm, which was founded six years ago when managing partner Mario Tonucci broke away from Gianni Origoni Tonucci.

Tonucci has come a long way since then, and has shaken off its image of being a purely Roman entity more vigorously than ever before.

In May, Tonucci increased its US presence by merging its New York practice with Pavia & Harcourt. Four months later it merged with Milan-based Barberi Cassese Rossetto Sala and Padua firm Scarpa Scapolo Vasta, increasing its firm-wide partner count to 35.

Although it was not part of Tonucci's initial plan, moving into Padua could not have come at a better time. Just a few months earlier, Gianni Origoni & Partners had set up a small operation in the highly industrialised region, staffed by former lawyers from Pavia e Ansaldo.

The Barberi Cassese merger was a client-driven move to bolster Tonucci's Milan presence. The firm still has twice as many partners in Rome (12), but Milan can now move out of Rome's shadow.

The merger also brought Tonucci an important presence in the East by adding Barberi Cassese's Romanian office to its presence in Tirana, Albania. The expansion will no doubt help Tonucci serve its major client the World Bank, and Italian companies are increasingly active in Eastern Europe. Last month, Studio Legale Sutti announced plans to open in Romania and Bulgaria.

After such a surge of activity, Tonucci's focus is now on integration. Goffredo Guerra, one of Tonucci's typically young partners at 34, is heading the Milan office and a new management committee has been set up with two partners from each firm. The intention is that one will later take on the leadership, allowing Guerra to concentrate on other responsibilities. Guerra also co-heads the firm's M&A practice with Rome-based rainmaker Marco Nicolini.

Meanwhile, Tonucci partners have been installed in Padua and Bucharest to introduce the firm's way of doing things.

The impact of the mergers on Tonucci's management structure is still to be seen, but one possible outcome is that the 10-partner management committee will be enlarged to allow more partners to have their say. Elections currently do not take place within the partnership, but are not ruled out for the future.

Recruitment is also a major consideration. The Italian offices are expected to grow from lateral hires and graduate recruitment, with a steady stream of associates joining from both. As far as salaries are concerned, Tonucci is competing with other Italian practices. Meeting UK, let alone US, figures is out of the question, but the firm is able to pitch itself against foreign entrants to the market. Joining a partnership in your 30s is unusual in Italy and helps to attract lawyers from UK and US firms.

If Tonucci can avoid falling prey to the fragmentation which bedevils the Italian profession, it will be its biggest achievement.