Brilliant men can sometimes be wrong, even in Italy. When 85 lawyers left Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners to set up on their own last December, the country’s largest law firm was dealt a body blow: overnight, a quarter of their number, including 17 partners, had gone. To paraphrase Machiavelli, they were not interested in preserving the status quo; they wanted to overthrow it.

    Francesco Gianni, the firm’s senior partner and leading corporate rainmaker, never anticipated this. Led by Gianni’s former managing partner, Giovanni Nardulli, renegades in the new firm settled on the name Legance, with offices in Milan and Rome. The split arose from strategic differences on hiring policy, billable hour targets and the need to maintain regional offices outside Milan and Rome.

    “Italy still has a lot to learn about how to manage the passage between generations in the management of law firms,” says Fulvio Pastore-Alinante, co-managing partner of Bryan Cave in Milan and general secretary of the Italian Association of International Law Firms. “This is a growing pain – a lesson for all of us to learn.”