Giovanni Nardulli’s three months as managing partner of Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners must surely count as the one of the shortest and most intense reigns of any law firm chief.
Tales of boardroom battles and rumours of resigning partners have culminated in a firmwide split, slicing a third off what was once Italy’s largest firm.
Nardulli and executive committee partners Alberto Giampieri, Bruno Bartocci and Filippo Troisi have left the firm to set up their own operation, taking 18 partners and around 125 lawyers in the process at the last count: a tug of war is still going on for the remaining partners and associates.
The Lawyer has spoken to a number of participants on both sides and it appears that what is left of Gianni Origoni now faces a war on two fronts. While still competing in a difficult market with long-time rivals Chiomenti Studio Legale and Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, the firm will also have to face the new challenger. Many major Italian companies, such as Giampieri client SACE, were close to the younger partners.
According to a lawyer close to the situation, the new firm already has a partnership agreement worked out, an IT infrastructure and is looking at offices in Milan and Rome. An office anywhere else, says the lawyer, “would be like Slaughter and May opening in Liverpool”. Nardulli will be managing partner of the new firm, and will no doubt be hoping for a calmer start this time around.
Cracks in the firm’s foundations had emerged long before Nardulli became managing partner in June this year, and they went deep. “At the end of the day it is a very simple matter,” says one source. “Gianni is a first-generation law firm that doesn’t want to become a second-generation law firm.”
There are a host of juicy roles in this generational melodrama. There is ‘President’ Franco Gianni, ‘Prime Minister’ Nardulli, and his rebellious cabinet members Giampieri, Bartocci and Troisi.
The old guard – Gianni himself and fellow name partner GianBattista Origoni – had long been in a dispute over the firm’s strategy with the new generation.
Giampieri, the firebrand leader of the firm’s banking practice, threatened to take himself and the entire department out of the firm at the start of the year unless something was done to change the culture.
The younger partners favoured a move to an institutional law firm structure, with clients shared across practice areas, as well as the closure of all domestic offices outside Milan and Rome. But the first generation were having none of it.
As a compromise, in June Gianni installed a new management structure. Former Rome head Nardulli, described by a source as “regarded as either an old young partner or a young old partner”, was seen as the perfect choice for managing partner to bridge the gap between the warring generations.
“It didn’t work,” said the source. Nardulli sided with the new guard.
As senior partner, Franco Gianni was prohibited from meddling in the managing partner’s day-to-day activities under the terms of the new structure, but the split shows who had the real power at the firm. If Nardulli and his committee really did have a mandate to shape the future of Gianni Origoni, this article would be about how the firm is managing out its first generation and dropping the regional offices.
But it is not. For the second generation to feel at home, they had to move out. As one lawyer said: “It’s much easier to share a law firm with people that agree rather than always fighting to persuade them.”
With that in mind, the executive committee began talks with a number of partners to sound them out about the idea of a breakaway.
The idea caught on and now both sides have their own law firms to represent their own diverging strategies.
Think of it as the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer restructuring played out in an alternate universe – one where the Grey Panthers remained and Ted Burke left.
1988 – Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners launches with offices in Rome, Milan and New York
1997 – Opens in London
1999 – Signs alliance with Linklaters
June 2000 – Opens in Padua with a raid on Padua e Ansaldo
July 2002 – Opens in Bologna
Oct 2003 – Opens in Naples
April 2004 – Linklaters and Gianni dissolve alliance
Feb 2005 – Opens in Turin
Feb 2006 – Four partners quit to set up Labruna Mazziotti Segni
June 2006 – Remuneration committee set up to give more partners a taste of management
Dec 2006 – Launch of Brussels office with a hire from the European Commission
June 2007 – Gianni becomes senior partner and Nardulli managing partner in a management shake-up
October 2007 – Franco Gianni and Giovanni Nardulli split the firm