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Latham & Watkins is betting on a new generation of partners opening up Italy's legal market following a U-turn on its Italian strategy.
For many years Latham stuck to the international law aspects of Italian corporate and finance deals, swapping work with Italian firms. But last week the firm broke off its relationships and set itself up as a competitor, hiring an all-star team of five partners from Bonelli Erede Pappalardo.
Michael Immordino, head of Latham's new Italian law practice, said: "We have our own views on whether the large Italian firms are capable of doing a generational jump, especially considering the quality and long-term vision of the younger partners.
"We think the Italian market will ultimately take the route of the French and German markets. There'll be one or two national champions and lots of international firms. It might take 10 years, five years or two years, but that's how we see it developing ultimately."
Traditionally the Italian corporate law market has been dominated by a small number of domestic firms. But partner rifts at firms such as Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners and Bonelli have led to opportunities for international firms.
Immordino said: "You tentatively end up thinking you've got it right when you see things like Gianni splitting. However, we're under no illusion that the large Italian firms don't remain the frontrunners in the market today."
Other factors, such as the increasing sophistication of Italian in-house counsel and rising associate salaries, will heap more pressure on domestic firms to modernise.
UK firms such as Linklaters and Lovells have been rapidly growing their Italian practices to take maximum advantage.
Linklaters has stuck its flag firmly in Italian ground, cherry-picking a number of rated corporate, finance and banking partners from domestic firms in the past six months.