International eye: Italy

Like Milan’s football clubs Internazionale and AC Milan, the rivalry between Italy’s two biggest law firms, Bonelli Erede Pappalardo and Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners, is inspired by more than just healthy competition.

Bonelli 2, Gianni 0

Like Milan’s football clubs Internazionale and AC Milan, the rivalry between Italy’s two biggest law firms, Bonelli Erede Pappalardo and Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners, is inspired by more than just healthy competition.

The two are divided along deep political lines. Bonelli traditionally takes its clients from the centre left establishment and Gianni from the centre right. In football terms, AC Milan, with Berlusconi at its head, could be Gianni and the left-leaning Inter would be Bonelli.

Slaughter and May best friend Bonelli and Linklaters ex-best friend Gianni have seen different fortunes so far this year. Whereas Gianni lost capital markets head Antonio Segni and partners Andrea Mazziotti di Celso, Fabio Labruna and Aldo Palumbo, Bonelli made a key IP hire last month in the form of Professor Giovanni Guglielmetti.

As first reported by The Lawyer (3 April), Guglielmetti brought along four lawyers, almost doubling the Bonelli IP practice in one fell swoop. The firm is consistent in its strategy of paying academic experts top dollar to join the firm and last year added Professor Marco Sica’s 20-lawyer administrative law boutique and Andrea Manzitti’s 12-lawyer tax outfit in Milan.

Just like in last month’s election, Bonelli’s centre left is in the ascendant and the firm has been taking advantage of the recent surge in capital markets activity. In London, Bonelli received three AIM listing instructions in the first three months of the year from Italian companies. In Milan, the firm is on no less than six IPOs.

So far the score is 2-0 to Bonelli, a score Internazionale can only dream of.

A&O grows in Rome

Senior associates can now stop crossing their fingers, screwing up their eyes and praying as hard as they can – partnerships have at last been announced. In Italy, Allen & Overy (A&O) led the field of international law firms this year. The firm made up three partners, promoted three associates to senior counsel and narrowed the shortlist of possible lateral hires.

The firm made up corporate specialist Lorenzo Parola and tax lawyer Francesco Bonichi in Rome, and Craig Byrne in the capital markets practice in Milan.

Massimiliano Danusso, A&O managing partner for Italy, told The Lawyer: “We’ve been through a period of few appointments, but in 1998, 1999 and 2000 we appointed a lot of partners. This is back to reality for us now.”

Danusso has an eye on next year’s promotions already, saying that at least four associates will be made up. The new partners are to be spread equally between Milan and Rome.

The move has come at the right time for A&O. The firm has seen a talented crop of senior associates and young partners leave the firm’s Italian offices recently.

At the tail end of 2005, three Milan-based corporate associates, led by Alessandro Giovanelli, resigned to join Italian independent Pavia e Ansaldo.

A&O’s Italian woes did not end there. Capital markets specialist Andrea Luciano left for SJ Berwin in February and banking star Andrea Arosio quit A&O for corporate boutique Pedersoli e Associati, taking with him senior associate Dario Longo and a crack team of seven associates.

But the firm’s Italian rebuilding in Italy will not be reliant on internal promotion. “We’re looking at lateral hires,” said Danusso. “We’ve been looking at candidates and we’ll have at least one approved before the summer.”

The clever money is on a big-name corporate hire from an established Italian law firm.

Milan proves fertile for Paul Hastings

For US law firms, a successful Italian office can be difficult to get right. Simply hiring a big name will not guarantee a solid presence in the country. White & Case’s experience with Alberto Morano is one example.

Bucking the trend is Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker, whose Milan office is on the hunt for more office space after nearly trebling in size since launching last May with Bruno Cova, who was legal counsel to Parmalat administrator Enrico Bondi.

Cova told The Lawyer he had no regrets about moving into private practice. Paul Hastings fought off competition from a number of US and UK firms when it convinced Cova to join and also won co-head Roberto Cornetta, who joined from Norton Rose.

As first reported by The Lawyer (27 March), the 16-strong Paul Hastings office has continued to grow since the September recruitment of Sergio Sambri, a second corporate partner from Norton Rose.

“We have space for 25 lawyers but we can still grow,” said Cova. “With an extra partner and his team, it wouldn’t take very long to fill nine spaces.”

Corporate mandates from clients including Italian airline Alitalia have driven the firm’s growth. In December, Cornetta represented Alitalia during the company’s £253.5m refinancing.

At the moment, the firm leases office space from flamboyant fashion designer Gianni Campagna, whose shop space occupies the office’s ground floor. Cova said he would prefer to lease more space from Campagna than move to another office.

Linklaters ponders Labruna alliance

Linklaters will be following with interest the fortunes of Antonio Segni, the ex-Gianni capital markets specialist who set up his own firm with three partner colleagues and a host of associates. With only two partners holding the fort in Italy, Linklaters might consider a merger with its old friend at his new firm Labruna Mazziotti Segni in addition to the expected merger with Giliberti Pappalettera Triscornia e Associati.

Sarosh Mewawalla, banking and projects partner in the Milan office of Linklaters, said: “We know the Segni firm, we know the people, we’ve worked with them and a number of firms in Italy. As far as an alliance goes, I wouldn’t comment.”

But with capital markets activity picking up, Linklaters will have to snap it up quickly before other firms move in. The firm is working on the IPO of security company Sicurglobal and advising Ergon Capital Partners, Vestar Capital Partners and Athena Private Equity on their e375m (£260.9m) purchase of Seves.