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Editorial

Legal 500 Doing Business in Italy

Contributed by Osborne Clarke

Doing Business in Italy

I. The Business Environment

As with the majority of European countries, Italy has been heavily hit by the financial crisis that affected the western economy in recent years. Banks and financial institutions have found themselves involved in a liquidity shortage (due to regulatory restraints or bad investments) that, notwithstanding interest rates that are at their lowest ever, have led them to adopt extremely cautious attitudes in lending money for investments, with the resulting bottleneck situation for clients seeking funds to maintain businesses, invest in new key assets such as equipment, premises and R&D, or meet their own liquidity problems.

This hazardous and uncertain environment has had a serious impact on the Italian economy and on entrepreneurial behaviour as a whole, leading, at the same time, to very conservative behaviour on the part of many existing businesses in their attitude to new investments and, in the end, even on the legal market, which in acknowledging the situation, positioned itself to concentrate on anti-cyclic activities such as labour and financial restructuring, insolvency and bankruptcy proceedings.

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Legal market overview

Italy is experiencing growing interest from international investors, particularly in companies in its huge mid-market sector, but underlying economic growth remains slow; the Italian economy is predicted to expand by just 0.8% in 2017.

Italy’s banking sector was in crisis mode during 2016, as a result of €360bn worth of non-performing loans (the most affected was the world’s oldest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena), combined with fresh EU rules preventing the banks from receiving state aid. The economy also risks being negatively impacted by the rejection of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum on constitutional reform; in addition the country is subject to EU approval of its 2017 budget plan, which increased its budget deficit and public debt targets, so as to confront both the country’s migrant crisis and reconstruction projects following on from devastating earthquakes.

The most significant development to affect Italy’s legal market in 2016 involved the split of transactional and contentious practice Lombardi Molinari Segni. In early 2017, company law specialist Ugo Molinari went on to form Molinari e Associati, while litigation and arbitration expert Giuseppe Lombardi launched Lombardi Segni e Associati with corporate and financial markets law specialist Antonio Segni.

Meanwhile, Gattai Minoli Agostinelli & Partners, which formed in late 2012, continued to expand by hiring Milan-based new head of structured finance Emanuela Campari Bernacchi from Legance – Avvocati Associati. Dentons’ new Italy practice, which launched in Milan in 2015, opened an office in Rome in 2016 and hired corporate partner Aian Abbas from Ashurst, after the latter closed in Rome. Dentons also recruited Milan-based Alessandro Fosco Fagotto from Pedersoli Studio Legale to head its banking and finance practice in Italy.

UK-based firm Fieldfisher also entered the market when it merged (via a Swiss verein) with Italian law firm, Studio Associato Servizi Professionali Integrati (SASPI), to form Fieldfisher Italy, with offices in Milan, Rome, Venice and Turin.

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