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Grimaldi in last-ditch talks with London as crisis looms over leadership structure
Clifford Chance is facing a walkout by Italian senior partner Vittorio Grimaldi and at least three other partners over a row about the management structure of Grimaldi e Associati Clifford Chance. Grimaldi, who is close to current chief executive officer Michael Bray, is threatening to quit the firm and set up an independent practice with senior banking partner Luigi Chessa, M&A head Roberto Capelli and banking and finance partner Francesco Novelli. All four are involved in a long-running argument over the introduction of a new management structure to bring the practice in line with the rest of Clifford Chance. Clifford Chance wants to introduce a managing partner role in Italy. That partner would be expected to hook into the rest of the firm in Europe and around the world, a role which currently does not exist in Italy. A key aim is to improve communications between Grimaldi and the rest of the firm, which are not considered to be good enough. However, the legacy Italian partners are understood to want to retain their own management structures. They are not confident that the new structure would work for Italy or that the appropriate person would be appointed. Inevitably, one bone of contention is whether the post will be filled by an Italian or an English partner. The Italian partners were unavailable for comment as The Lawyer went to press, but a Clifford Chance spokesperson said: "There's a discussion about the management structure in Italy, but no one's resigned or said they'll be resigning. There's just discussion, which you'd expect in the second year of a merger, in which Clifford Chance would like the structure to be more in line with the Clifford Chance structure." The spokesperson said the firm wants to keep all four of the partners. "We want to keep them. Vittorio is in charge. He'd stay as senior partner. We're looking for a management structure that would mirror the rest of the firm," he said. The fallout in Italy also coincides with a firmwide review of the equity, much of which has been conducted behind closed doors so that partners are not aware of each other's positions. But the spokesperson said the Italian situation is a separate issue. "This kind of discussion has taken place all over the place following the merger. Italy's no different, it's just taking longer to resolve," he said. Clifford Chance and the Italian firm merged in January 2001 after tense negotiations about profit integration. The eventual deal gave a handful of Italian equity partners extra points on top of their lockstep for three years. At the time of the merger, Grimaldi's remuneration package is understood to have allowed him to continue earning £2.5-£3m a year, three times the top of lockstep. Since the merger, Grimaldi has lost a capital markets team to White & Case and more recently two finance partners to Slaughter and May's Italian best friend Bonelli Erede Pappalardo.