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Freshfields has pulled off a major coup as it prepares to enter the Italian marketplace, by scooping up a Milan firm and entering into talks with a Rome-based firm.
It has taken over Milan-based Lega Colucci Albertazzi & Arossa (LCAA), a full service firm which will form the kernel of the Freshfields practice.
This follows the firm's employment of US headhunters to hire partners in Milan.
The move, which echoes the Clifford Chance entry into Italy, has generated much interest among Italian firms, which expect an influx of foreign law firms over the next year.
The Freshfields office will be headed by Paris partner Yves Huyghe de Mahenge. Also joining is Enrico Castellani, a member of Birindelli Castellani & Co, and Cesare Vecchio of Milan firm Studio Professor Guilio Tremonti.
Freshfields is still involved in talks with Rome firm Francesco Carbonetti, which has agreed to become "of counsel", and is talking to a firm of tax lawyers and accountants, Commercialisti, which has links with LCAA.
The acquisitions mean that Freshfields will get a rolling start in Italy, with seven partners and 30 lawyers in place when it opens in February. LCAA partner Fabrizio Arossa said that the Freshfields move happened "abruptly".
"We were happy on our own when we were contacted this June by headhunters hired by Freshfields to find some partners to open a small office. They got in touch and started discussing integration," he said.
Arossa said: "Neither Freshfields partners nor our partners were at ease with the idea - but then we liked each other."
He added that the firms found "many points of contact" and proceeded further with the discussions.
Arossa was at pains to point out that the firm was "not bought by Freshfields. They are not paying for the goodwill of the clients. It was more appropriate to integrate."
The LCAA partners will become equity partners with Freshfields.
"The trade-off between our existing practice and the know-how and international network which Freshfields has, was worth going for," said Arossa.
Freshfields chief executive Alan Peck said that the firm "did not go in to take a whole firm. We were looking for partners in Milan."
He added that the Italian market has "got a lot more attractive over the last year with a change in the climate of Italian business".
"It's a big move," said one Italian merchant banker. "We are looking at how this will develop and who will be next."