Chicago-firm McDermott Will & Emery has broken with its international strategy by taking over 20-partner Italian firm Carnelutti.
By contrast, McDermott has stocked up its London office with a series of laterals, while its Düsseldorf and Munich offices have been built on small team hires.
The Carnelutti deal comes as a further surprise, since McDermott itself had planned to open in Paris next before cracking the Italian market. London managing partner John Reynolds told The Lawyer that the Carnelutti deal was opportunistic, with the two firms being brought together by legal consultancy Blaqwell.
Reynolds added: "Italy's one of those jurisdictions where it's more difficult to start from scratch and build and build. Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer] did it very successfully, but it's much more difficult now."
The largest group previously taken on by McDermott was 27-lawyer intellectual property firm Lowe Price Leblanc & Becker in 1998. The Carnelutti deal involves 70 fee-earners, the bulk of them based in Milan and the balance in Rome.
The two firms have been talking for almost a year and have teamed up for clients that include Italian holding company Finpart and airport operator Sagat.
Carnelutti's Padua office will not join McDermott. Managing partner Luca Arnaboldi said: "We decided with McDermott that it wasn't strategic for an international network of offices to have a presence in Padua." The one-partner office will dissolve on 1 January.
Carnelutti's affiliated Paris partner Alexandre Carnelutti, who had aided the firm's long-running legal battle to continue using the name of famous Italian jurist Francesco Carnelutti, is also outside the deal. He remains affiliated with a separate Italian partnership using the Carnelutti name, with 40 partners split between Rome and Naples.
McDermott has bolted on the Carnelutti name for branding purposes in Italy. Alexandre Carnelutti commented: "I don't want to make it difficult for them to have a smooth transition, but they'll have to let go of the name pretty quickly. It's planned."