fivehundred magazine > Country spotlight: Italy > Economic recovery, the Italian way

Economic recovery, the Italian way

In conversation with leading lawyers, EMEA editor Ella Marshall considers the successes of Italy’s top law firms and the potential challenges heading their way

The third largest economy in the eurozone and a founding member of the EU, you need to have been living on another planet not to be aware of Italy’s plight in the last few years, even flirting with the idea of an exit from the EU in recent times, with the incumbent prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, telling reporters in October 2018 to ‘Read my lips: there will be no Italian Brexit…’. Hit particularly hard by the sovereign debt crisis, with salaries reported to have fallen to 1986 levels in 2012, the country’s economy has made slow progress since the recession.

However, Italy remains a central market for luxury goods and is home to several behemoths in the automotive sector, including Ferrari, Alfa Romeo
and Lamborghini, and fashion houses including Prada, Versace and Ermenegildo Zegna, to name a few. It is also a key name in the manufacturing sector, where it is second only to Germany as the largest country for manufacturing in Europe.

Based on the country’s long-standing strengths in these areas, Italian law firms remain fairly optimistic about the levels of activity in the market.
According to Wolf Michael Kühne, country managing partner at DLA Piper, the Italian economy may experience some semblance of a recovery as a direct result of the significance of these industries. This sentiment was also shared by the co-managing partners at Gianni, Origioni, Grippo, Capelli & Partners, Rosario Zaccà and Antonio Auricchio, who have noted how Italian companies in the fashion, food, automotive and component industries continue to be attractive targets for investment.

In recognition of the importance of these sectors, The Legal 500 took the decision to expand its ‘Industry focus’ sections in 2016, introducing Retail, Luxury goods and Manufacturing as new sections. Our industry focuses assess the ability of legal practices to provide a range of services to clients in each sector.

Other major changes to The Legal 500’s coverage in recent years includes the introduction in 2018 of a Compliance ranking, with work in this area largely comprising anti-corruption programmes and internal investigations. Allegations of corruption have dogged those at the highest echelons of Italian politics, with controversial former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – who, incidentally, graduated with a degree in law, before a stint in the construction industry preceded his rise as a media mogul – convicted of tax fraud in 2012. Indeed, it has also been prevalent in football where there have been a number of match-fixing scandals across all leagues, and has also crossed over into tennis, with Marco Cecchinato suspended for 18 months for his involvement in a match-fixing offence in a Challenger event.

Despite the high-profile sporting and political scandals, much of the firms’ work in this area tends to be for corporate clients and there has been significant growth in this area, as noted by Stefano Bianchi of Pavia e Ansaldo, who comments that ‘the role of the lawyer is growing… in the implementation of general security and compliance plans and corporate governance models
aimed at ensuring an optimal management of risks related to anti-money laundering, anti-bribery, and so on’.

Despite being a new practice area for 2018, Compliance received a number of submissions (the two don’t always go hand-in-hand), illustrating the appetite among firms for this type of work and the exceptionally busy workloads for teams. In addition to advising on Decree 231 – Italy’s anti-corruption law – firms are also actively advising on the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Anti-bribery Act and it is little surprise, therefore, to see several international firms occupying the top tier.

Football, or more accurately footballers, and cars have long gone together. However, in a country where strikes are commonplace – with walkouts by transport workers a now frequent occurrence – one of the more noteworthy reports of industrial action in recent months, was the news of planned strike by Fiat Chrysler workers in the USB union. The workers (which it is surely safe to assume were not fans of the Old Lady) took umbrage at Juventus’ signing of arguably the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, for €112m in July 2018. Both Juve and Fiat are owned by one family (the Agnelli family). Workers in the union objected to the purchase of one player at the expense of, as they saw it, investment in the company. While this summer story inevitably grabbed the headlines, largely due to Ronaldo’s ability to generate ‘clicks’, it also illustrates the activity of Italy’s unions. In a country where the unemployment rate stands at 9.7%, union membership appears to be growing. In the employment sphere, firms have seen increased activity in industrial labour relations work, as well as consultations with trade unions, frequently in the context of workforce downsizing. While the uncertainty in the economy has inevitably crossed over into the country’s politics – Italy has gone through prime ministers at a rate that rivals Chelsea’s hire-and-fire managerial policy – two things have remained stable: Juventus’ grip on the Scudetto and the total number of rankings held by Gianni, Origioni, Grippo, Capelli & Partners. The firm has consistently topped the table year on year from 2014 to 2018, with a total of 26 rankings in 2018 alone.

One of the innovative additions to The Legal 500’s coverage in recent times, has been the introduction of the new Hall of Fame category, which recognises lawyers who have been consistently ranked as Leading individuals over a number of years. BonelliErede is leading the way in this area with seven individuals featured as Hall of Famers.

Illustrating the firm’s strength across the board, the individuals are drawn from various different practice areas: Administrative and public law; Banking and finance; Capital markets; Employment; Intellectual property; Real estate and construction; and Tax. Chiomenti is hot on BonelliErede’s
heel though, with five Hall of Famers drawn from Capital markets; Commercial, corporate and M&A; EU and competition; Energy; and Real estate and construction.

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