Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the inaugural meeting of Clifford Chance's Italian manage-ment committee. As if the Grimaldi saga was not enough, Nick Wrigley's team has had to turn its attentions to shoring up its finance practice in preparation for Luigi Chessa's imminent departure to Standard & Poor's.
The Italian rumour mill went into overdrive when Chessa resigned in January – the question on everyone's lips being how long he would wait before taking up a year-old offer to join Sidley Austin Brown & Wood as its Italian managing partner. Banking partners Paolo Calderaro, Franco Grilli and Silvio Riolo are all understood to have been part of that original Sidley plan, so perhaps they would move first, saving Chessa at least some grace in CC's eyes and allowing him a slower pace for a while.
It's no surprise that Sidley, with its significant Italian practice, wants a presence on the ground. The Italian government has been securitising its receivables for years – work that has formed the bedrock of Chessa and Grilli's practice. Now there is the prospect of major government infrastructure projects, to be funded through a combination of project finance and securitisation techniques. With this in mind, Calderaro will switch from Milan to Rome to work more closely with Grilli. So you can see how Sidley's mind is working. In the meantime, Sidley is teaming up a couple of Italian firms for pitches and doesn't rule out a more formal relationship with one of them. But Chessa et al remain its dream team.
One hopes for the sake of Wrigley's sanity that Sidley doesn't get its way. Wrigley may have the Italian job all to himself, but he doesn't have a strong power base in CC at large – a position that can't have been helped when he recently featured in the top 200 list of Italy's richest taxpayers. The revelation that Wrigley earned £2m in taxable income in 2001 came as a timely reminder of his off-lockstep deal with CC. Needless to say, a flood of outraged and amused emails ensued.
Wrigley has been keeping his head down since then, transforming a practice dominated by a privileged few into an organised, transparent operation. As a result, Wrigley says Italy billed e5.8m (£3.9m) in December last year, the most it has ever made in a single month. But while Italy is undeniably lucrative, it will always be a headache.