McDermott and Carnelutti call time on two-year tie-up

McDermott Will & Emery‘s merger with Italian firm Carnelutti has failed, with the firms splitting just two years after their merger.

Carnelutti was staunchly proud of its 100-year history and it seems that independence served it best.

One US source from the McDermott management told The Lawyer: “The Milan partners are going to be at their most productive if they are independent – not to say that they weren’t productive when merged with us.”

As recently as three months ago, Carnelutti’s managing partner Luca Arnaboldi was making public platitudes that all was rosy with the merger. But there had been questions surrounding it from the start.

McDermott has a small London presence, and the lack of referrals it would be able to bring was seen as a problem. Under the split agreement, Carnelutti regains its Milan independence, while McDermott keeps its small presence in Rome.

The Chicago-based giant, which announced two partner hires in Rome in conjunction with announcing the split, is not the first firm to fail in its attempts to merge with an Italian firm, and history suggests it will not be the last.

Clifford Chance had an acrimonious divorce from Grimaldi e Associati in 2002, with that merger also lasting only two years.

Both McDermott and Carnelutti have publicly been at pains to stress the break up is amicable.

If there is friction between the two, it has been well hidden by the management of both firms, even from its own partners. McDermott partners on both sides of the Atlantic said they had been briefed by senior management that the split was “entirely good-natured”.

But McDermott’s failure to get the Milan lawyers to see themselves as part of an international firm has surely caused friction. Given the Italian attitude to independence, the split had an air of inevitability about it.

Indeed, The Lawyer, when analysing the merger almost two years ago to the day (27 October 2003) questioned how long it would last. The Lawyer wrote: “What are Carnelutti and McDermott Will & Emery thinking? While Carnelutti has had problems over the years, it is still seen as a better firm in Italy than McDermott is globally.”