Freshfields moves to quell Italian revolution

Founding Milan partners likely to leave; last-ditch talks to save Arossa and Vecchio

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

is in the midst of an Italian crisis. Founding Milan partners Paolo Colucci and Giovanni Lega are expected to leave the magic circle firm, and are very likely to take several associates with them.

The news comes amid debate over the management structure and business strategy of the Italian offices.

However, as The Lawyer went to press on Friday, it looked as if Freshfields had succeeded in seeing off the kind of exodus Clifford Chance faced earlier this year when its marriage to Grimaldi e Associati collapsed. In a major damage limitation exercise, Freshfields has probably persuaded two other key partners – Fabrizio Arossa and Cesare Vecchio – to stay.

Sources in Italy also said that the quartet of Milan partners brought in from Chiomenti two years ago and the firm’s small Rome office have been relatively unaffected by the furore. However, Arossa’s final decision will be crucial as he is Rome-based.

Freshfields first entered the Italian market when it took over Lega Colucci Albertazzi & Arossa in 1996. Name partner Roberto Albertazzi left to set up his own firm in September 2000.

Relations between corporate partners Lega and Colucci and Freshfields’ management are understood to have been strained for some time. Lega may still stay, but this would seem to require a wholesale change of heart both on his part and the firm’s.

Lega told The Lawyer: “For the time being there haven’t been any talks between myself and Freshfields about departing. I’m constantly in touch with management and we’re trying to resolve a number of issues about the Italian offices.”

Lega, who returns from a three-month sabbatical today (1 December), favours a new executive committee to replace the co-managing partner roles currently taken by Italian partner Mario Ortu and English partner Philip Richards. Colucci was unavailable for comment.

If, as expected, Colucci and Lega manage to negotiate favourable exit packages, both sides should be happy with the separation.

It is unclear where Lega and Colucci would go next. Sources in the Italian market claim that the two intend to set up a boutique firm. Despite rumours of talks with White & Case, they will definitely not be joining the US firm. White & Case senior partner for Italy John Riggs told The Lawyer: “We’ve not had any discussions with them and there are no plans for them to join us.”

Freshfields declined to comment.