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Three top Italian law firms are merging in response to "aggressive competition" from UK and US practices. The firms are Erede e Associati, which is advising Olivetti in its £36.5bn take-over of Telecom Italia alongside Herbert Smith (The Lawyer last week), Bonelli e Associati and Pappalardo e Associati. Foreign interest has forced Italian firms to examine their strategies. Meanwhile rival firm, Studio Legale Sutti, is planning to expand its practice by opening a new Rome office by Christmas and hiring new partners in London and Milan - Livia Oglio, Davide Braghini and Carlo Piana. Nicholas Wrigley, a partner at the Milan office of Grimaldi & Clifford Chance, says that the Italian market is in turmoil: "It is a very active time for international players." Linklaters & Alliance is eyeing top Italian firms such as Chiomenti Studio Legale and Gianni Origoni & Partners. US firm Shearman & Sterling is also believed to be in the hunt, and has recently been linked with Chiomenti. Gianni Origoni, senior partner Francesco Gianni, says a link-up with Linklaters is one of a number of possibilities: "We are one of the firms Linklaters is talking to." "The market is developing rapidly. We are still trying to work out what will be the best deal for our partners and associates." Chiomenti partner Franc-esco Ago would not comment on talks with US and UK firms, but says he is keeping an open mind: "Everybody is discussing with everybody. We have a regular exchange of views with a number of firms. "We shall remain independent for the time being." Shearmans partner Step-hen Mostyn-Williams refused to comment on the Italian merger plans, simply saying: "Italy is an important market and we have a successful Italian practice co-operating with a number of different Italian firms. "Shearmans has a well-known policy on the world's leading financial centres and markets. Italy is a fast-growing market, which we would be interested in." How UK/US interest infulenced Italian alliances Italian trio Bonelli e Associati, Erede e Associati and Pappalardo e Associati have snubbed foreign merger proposals in favour of an all-Italian link-up. Genovese firm Bonelli is keen to build on the reputation of its partners in commercial and corporate law. Senior managing partner Franco Bonelli admits international interest spurred them into action: "We considered the possibility of going international, but thought this would be preferable. The trend has been important for the Italian market-and beneficial. It has forced us to think about our strucutre and postition. We would have become a branch of another law firm". Francesco Ago, a partner at rival firm Chiomenti, says: "It is an interesting link. Sergio Erede and Franco Bonelli are very prominent, well connected lawyers. It's now a question of how they can get along".