White & Case has expanded its Italian presence by taking a team from Grimaldi Clifford Chance for a capital markets practice. Capital markets specialist Andrea Ughi joined the Milan office from Grimaldi Clifford Chance on 1 February. He has since been joined by associates Alessandra Guercia and Claudia Parzani. They will build the domestic and international capital markets practice with the office's co-executive partner Kenneth Lee.
The hire comes among ill-feeling towards the new US player. A source at one firm claims that White & Case is offering to undercut his firm by up to 50 per cent. "Doing deals at prices no one can do is the classic idiot's way of entering the market. It doesn't work."
Alessandro Varrenti, co-executive partner at White & Case and Varrenti e Associati, denies the allegation, calling it a "filthy lie".
He says: "We're not dumping our fees to get work. We've not yet done one presentation. We've simply continued to represent our clients. Our books are open for anyone to see.
"We're part of a global firm and aren't allowed to do things on our own. White & Case has a lot of very loyal clients here. There's no point in thinking about discounting the rates."
White & Case merged with five-partner Italian corporate firm Varrenti e Associati on 1 January and subsequently hired an intellectual property (IP) team from Studio Attolico (The Lawyer, 15 January and 29 January).
Ughi spent two years as a senior associate at Clifford Chance's joint venture partner Grimaldi e Associati. The firms merged in December, but Ughi says his move is unrelated. "We didn't see big changes after the merger because the two firms were already so well integrated," he says. "We think that Grimaldi Clifford Chance is the top capital markets firm in Italy at the moment, and it's been a great school. We decided to leave as we thought this was a very good chance to grow a capital markets practice in another law firm. We thought it a good challenge to start something from scratch backed by a firm like White & Case."
Clifford Chance Milan partner Nicholas Wrigley, who heads corporate finance and capital markets, says the departures have not come as a surprise.
"It's natural that someone of Andrea's age seeks other opportunities when people three or four years younger are being made partner," he says. "I wish them all well."