Italy was the first European country where the 2020 spread of Coronavirus accelerated exponentially, and the first country outside of Asia to implement national lockdown and social distancing measures. Unsurprisingly, these were major blows for both GDP growth and Italy’s stock markets, which in turn put M&A on hold.
Investors looking for lucrative Italian deals also faced additional hurdles as a result of the enhancement of the golden power rules introduced by Italy’s coalition government, which expanded the strategic sectors where the state can block overseas investors from buying assets. Additional rules were introduced after the Covid-19 outbreak to prevent foreign buyers from acquiring key assets cheaply, in areas such as banking, insurance and healthcare.
As lockdown measures were lifted in the Summer and business in Italy recommenced, there were hopes that the country's economy would begin to recover. The European Commission forecast an increase in consumer spending and a GDP growth rate of 6.5% for 2021. It was also hoped that a government stimulus package of €750bn (including the €55bn Relaunch Italy programme and a €200bn government-backed loan guarantee scheme) would kickstart the post-pandemic recovery.
Insolvency measures were also implemented by an April 2020 legal decree, including the dismissal of all bankruptcy and insolvency proceedings (with certain exceptions), which were filed between March 9, 2020 and June 30, 2020; and the extension by six months of deadlines of arrangements with creditors and restructuring agreements that were due after February 23, 2020. Notwithstanding the positive impact of these government measures, projections concerning insolvency proceedings in Italy remained pessimistic.
Meanwhile, the legal services profession was compelled to adapt to the global pandemic, with lawyers working from home for an extended period, adopting innovative digital measures to ensure minimal disruption to client work and service levels; however, by early summer, most law firms reported a return to their traditional workplaces.
Unfortunately, Italy suffered a devastating second coronavirus wave in the Autumn; the country’s healthcare system and economic recovery were both put at risk, and regional lockdown measures imposed were met by regular city protests around the country.
Notwithstanding the turmoil, headline developments in the legal market still unfolded. Law firm Gatti Pavesi Bianchi and leading tax practice Ludovici Piccone & Partners joined forces in January 2021 to create Gatti Pavesi Bianchi Ludovici; the new firm fields 140 professionals, including 20 equity partners, that operate from offices in Milan and Rome, with overseas presences in London, Vienna and Luxembourg.
Elsewhere, the Italian finance, real estate and projects department of London-headquartered international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills was established in July 2019 by energy partners Lorenzo Parola and Francesca Morra (both formerly at Paul Hastings LLP's former Milan office); it was also later strengthened when of counsel and finance specialist Simone Egidi joined from Ashurst.
Other headline news includes the departure of former name partner Roberto Cappelli from legal powerhouse Gianni & Origoni for Studio Legale Cappelli RCCD (taking partner Valentina Dragoni with him), where he is again name partner; elsewhere, Giovanardi Pototschnig & Associati is now known as Giovanardi Studio Legale, following the 2020 departure of litigation and ADR expert Paolo Pototschnig for Orsingher Ortu – Avvocati Associati.