Legal Market Overview
In 2020, Italy’s Covid-hit economy depreciated by 8.9%, marking the country’s most severe recession since the end of World War II. However, a gradual resurgence resulted in lower public deficit and debt ratios in 2021 than previously feared, thanks to a successful vaccination campaign and Italy’s multibillion-euro recovery plan, which was partly funded by the European Union. The ongoing risks posed to Italy’s recovery and its path to a greener, more digital economy are stark, but growth is expected to be approximately 4.4% in 2022, alongside higher consumption levels, the relaxation of mobility restrictions and employment growth.
Many market commentators maintain that sustainable finance is an unforeseen, yet welcome, consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which strengthened collective awareness of sustainable investments, and led to an increase in sustainable finance mandates, such as social and sustainability bond issues.
Meanwhile, Italy’s top legal practices have been quick to launch robust environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) practices, in response to the European Commission’s 2019 Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), which took effect in March 2021.
By way of example, in late 2021 Legance – Avvocati Associati established an ESG and impact industry department when it hired partner Roberto Randazzo from RP Legal & Tax, who has expertise in sustainability, ESG criteria, impact finance and social innovation. Randazzo’s experience additionally covers advising B-Corps (businesses that balance purpose and profit) and companies that are interested in generating positive and measurable impacts.
Italian legal practices have likewise picked up on the importance of corporate social responsibility, both in terms of corporate governance and risk management perspectives. Many Italian legal practices now have social responsibility programmes that cover pro bono activities, which offer free legal assistance to people and communities in need of support.
Increasing numbers of Italian law firms are additionally adopting policies that promote diversity, including in relation to protecting professionals with parental responsibilities, as well declaring their commitment to strict non-discrimination policies and codes of ethics that guarantee high standards of conduct and inclusion.
High-profile examples include Gianni & Origoni‘s establishment of GOP Cares, which, through a single plan, covers environment (GOP Cares Green), people (GOP Cares Social) and governance (GOP Cares Work), the overall goal including the sustainable development of the firm itself.
In other notable legal market initiatives, BonelliErede recently spun off its alternative legal service provider, beLab, which leverages legal digital technologies to provide solutions for compliance management, e-Discovery and litigation support, investigations, know your client (KYC) screening and third-party due diligence, 231 models, and transaction services. Consequently, beLab became an incorporated public limited company in September 2020.
Further headline developments within the legal market, notwithstanding the pandemic, include Boies Schiller Flexner LLP opening an EU-focused Milan office (Boies Schiller Flexner Italy) with approximately 15 lawyers (including four-partner team Luigi Macioce, Alessia Allegretti, Stefano Zonca and Giancarlo Morelli) joining from Italian independent RP Legal & Tax. The launch marked the New York-headquartered litigation law firm’s first new office since 2013.
The year also saw the launch of ADVANT, a new European law firm association that was established by three leading European firms, including NCTM Studio Legale Associato (now known as ADVANT Nctm).
Elsewhere, some Italian law firms are looking beyond Italy for opportunities. In January 2021, GIM Legal, which specialises in financial services, real estate and capital markets, opened its first international office in London.