Italian firms end feud to fight English 'offensive'

Two rival Italian firms, both descended from revered jurist Francesco Carnelutti, have buried the hatchet and joined forces to fight against 'the offensive launched in Italy by English firms'.

Carnelutti in Milan and Carnelutti in Rome separated in the late 1960s and relations deteriorated when each opened an office in the other city. For years there was a dispute over the use of the Carnelutti name.

Now they have merged, creating Italy's second largest firm, comprising 90 partners and associates with an extra 15 US qualified lawyers in the New York office. There are additional offices in Padua, Naples, Paris and London

Marco Gubitosi, head of the London office, said: 'This constitutes the first significant reply from Italian firms against the international law firms. This return to unity represents only the first step in Carnelutti's expansion, which will continue through a series of acquisitions and agreements with other firms.'

He said the London office would expand from two lawyers to 'five or six' in the near future.

Luca Arnaboldi, a partner with Carnelutti in Milan, said the two firms complement each other very well. The Milan office does mainly corporate work and the Rome office mainly government work.

Clifford Chance, Simmons & Simmons, Frere Cholmeley Bischoff, Freshfields, Baker & McKenzie and Allen & Overy all have Italian offices. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton opens up next month and Linklaters is rumoured to have plans for offices in Italy.

English firms have dismissed the threat posed by the Carnelutti merger.

Nick Wrigley, Clifford Chance's senior Milan partner, says: 'It makes no difference to us. The internal problems of Carnelutti are a real soap opera and this is just another episode. They spend most of their time dissolving and regrouping.'

Another leading British lawyer in Italy said: 'It's not a great threat. It wouldn't surprise me if they were simply making themselves more attractive to an English or US buyer.'

But Arnaboldi denied this. 'Frankly, I don't see how, in the short term, this is possible. We are not looking to lure another firm.'