White & Case calls time on Milan office as hunt for merger target ends in failure

White & Case calls time on Milan office as hunt for merger target ends in failureThe news that White & Case is to close its Milan office and pull out of Italy came just as the firm started to implement recommendations from management consultants McKinsey & Co (The Lawyer, 27 October).

According to a source, pulling out of Italy was not part of the McKinsey review, with management deciding to close the Milan office after failing to find a suitable merger with an ­Italian firm.

The 15-lawyer office will close at the end of November and Sean Geary, managing partner for Italy, will relocate to New York.

The move comes three years after White & Case shut its Rome office. At that time, Geary was flown in from New York to manage the Milan practice.

One source close to the firm said White & Case’s Italian strategy had revolved around bringing in a high-profile Italian rainmaker to boost its profile, but that the firm’s search had ended in vain.

Another lawyer said the office was meeting its ­budget and profit targets, but that the level of investment needed to hire a big name was too great.

One source said: “No [Italian] partners knew about the closure. No one was consulted. We still have work here. We’ve to finish the work for the clients in the manner that we started it.”

The firm said in a statement: “White & Case has periodically reviewed its position in the Italian ­market since opening there. It was concluded in the most recent of these reviews that the level of investment required to reach the ­position in Italy that the firm requires of its operations in any market was beyond that which is in the best interests of the firm as a whole.”

The statement continued: “We would like to openly thank all of the lawyers and staff in Milan for their ­dedication, hard work and service during their time with White & Case.”

The closure marks the end of White & Case’s seven-year spell in Italy. The firm entered the market in 2001 via a merger with local firm Varrenti & Associati.

Name partner Alessandro Varrenti split from the firm in 2004, taking two local partners with him. Later that year, White & Case tied up with private equity firm Morano e Associati, led by Alberto Morano, who is now a partner at SJ Berwin.

The news that White & Case is to close in Italy came a few days before US firm Skadden ;Arps ;Slate Meagher & Flom and Italian firm Chiomenti Studio Legale decided to terminate their exclusive relationship.

A statement from Skadden said that the firms “have decided to modify their alliance” but will continue to work together “on a non-exclusive basis”.
The statement continued: “The change to the relationship reflects the changing nature of cross-border legal practice and is in response to client needs.”

Meanwhile, over in Germany, White & Case has decided to close its Dresden office, citing the retirement of office head Axel Bauer as the reason.

Three of the firm’s Dresden partners and two associates will set up a local office for KPMG Legal in January.

White & Case’s office will close at the end of the year.