Mario Todino, Resident Brussels Office Partner, Gianni Origoni Grippo
This article was written in January 2006. Despite its age, Brussels Legal still finds its content relevant to Brussels' international legal community.
In mid-December Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners announced the opening of the firm's Brussels office from 1 January 2007.
Brussels Legal spoke with Mario Todino, resident Brussels office partner, about the firm's arrival in Brussels.
BL: Gianni Origoni Grippo is a new entrant in Brussels. What is Gianni's background and international presence?
MT: Gianni Origoni Grippo is one of the most respected independent full-service law firms in Italy. We are a national law firm with offices in Rome, Bologna, Milan, Naples, Padua, Turin and have developed a strong international presence with offices in London, New York and now Brussels. To explain Gianni's international background it is necessary to go back a few years.
There was a general trend up to 5 years ago amongst a number of law firms towards "globalisation". Many laws firms thought the ability to provide a "global" service was necessary and inevitable and a number of alliances (or networks) were formed.
In general these networks did not prove to be as successful as expected, particularly in countries like Italy and France. A big problem was there was no homogenous service across the networks. Sophisticated clients knew they could pick and choose law firms in different jurisdictions and they were not satisfied with the statement that the particular alliance was the guarantee of quality in each jurisdiction.
Up until 3 years ago Gianni was in an alliance with Linklaters and some other European law firms. Various alliance members at that time went for a full merger with Linklaters. Some law firms did not want to be taken over; they had a strong standing in their own jurisdictions and saw no benefit in merging. Gianni was one such firm. It left the alliance and is no longer in a special relationship with any other law firm.
Typically purely national law firms provide the best overall advice and service to clients. In Italy the Anglo-Saxon law firms are not strong across all areas of practice. The two main Italian national players are Gianni and Bonelli (and Bonelli is formalising its "best friends" relationship with Slaughter & May).
BL: So what is the rationale for the firm opening the Brussels office?
MT: There are many law firms dealing with competition law in Brussels. The Brussels market is very crowded and congested. However the market can be segmented depending on the demand. Gianni is going to focus primarily on one of these market segments: providing competition law services to clients from Italy and to international clients requiring advice and representation in Italy.
The Brussels office enables us to provide improved legal advice to our existing corporate clients based in Italy. Our Brussels presence immediately helps us serve the Italian market better and the Brussels office is fully integrated with Gianni's antitrust department in Rome.
Furthermore a number of international corporations are headquartered in Brussels. Many are seeking legal advice in Italy. We are very internationally-driven and we want to build up relationships with those corporations headquartered here. So the Brussels office will develop the client interface into Italy as well as from Italy.
Also many prestigious law firms here have no Italian network and they also need a credible, established practice in Italy. We are going to compete with Italian law firms in Brussels on referral work from other law firms.
BL: Why only open the Brussels office now?
MT: We are latecomers to Brussels. Gianni is one of the most prestigious law firms and so it is right to ask why it took so long to set up an office here.
Gianni was determined to make a proper investment in its Brussels office. If the office were only a so-called "antenna", namely a small office for representation purposes, it would be a recipe for failure (being isolated from the firm's headquarters and too small to serve existing clients or to attract new clients). Gianni knew the office had to be sufficiently equipped to be credible with clients and to be able to compete with our direct competitors.
Also Gianni was searching for someone with expertise, experience and sufficient visibility to lead the office. We have to send the right message to existing and potential clients.
BL: What is the nature of the Brussels office in terms of practice and personnel?
MT: Our focus is primarily on all areas of competition law. Other areas of EU law (such as internal market, public procurement, public administrative law, environmental and IP law) will also be developed. These other areas are provided in response to specific client demand and also based upon our lawyers' backgrounds. For example, my DG Markt experience means I will advise on internal market and public procurement issues.
From January 1 2007, in addition to me we have one experienced associate and a junior associate. Within a couple of months we will have one associate from Milan and another junior lawyer. So we will effectively start as a team of 5 lawyers. We are currently based temporarily for 3 months in Bastion Tower and we will then move to our new offices on Avenue Molière.
BL: You left the Commission to lead the office. Why did you decide to leave DG Competition?
MT: I am a true believer in the public role of the Commission and so it was not an easy decision to take. There was a career "bottleneck" in DG Competition and my career prospects were unclear. For many officials there are factors beyond your control regarding career progression (such as gender and geographic balance) and DG Competition itself is a very competitive DG (which makes progress within that DG very slow).
After 15 years at a number of public agencies (the Commission, the ECJ, the Italian National Competition Authority) I needed a new challenge. Also after working in the European Merger Network and the Cabinet of the Italian NCA, I realised I had a higher value outside the Commission. As I have a lot of ambition I decided I should look elsewhere.
BL: So why join Gianni and not another law firm?
MT: I got a nice and very challenging offer from Gianni. The role is more risky than working for an Anglo-Saxon firm as it gives more responsibility and visibility. I look forward to the challenge.
I have many friends who work here and the other three antitrust partners are former colleagues. When I was at the Italian NCA, Alberto Pera was Secretary General and Piero Fattori was Head of the Legal Service and Denis Fosselard was a classmate at the College of Europe.
The firm profile is very much institutional in character and experience and so very credible with clients. There is added value in serving the client in a fair way with the benefit of that perspective. People like me can provide a valuable service to our clients as we can anticipate the thoughts of colleagues in DG Competition.
BL: Although you have only recently made the switch, what adjustments have you had to make between the Commission and private practice?
MT: I only left the Commission on November 15 so there is not so much I can say right now. But I can make a couple of points.
A minor aspect that is quite striking is the time and preparation required for presenting a case to the agencies. A lot more time is needed than I had anticipated.
The main adjustment so far has concerned a change of perspective. It is not a dramatic change; it is a different approach to problems. For a public agency the issue is the public interest, while in private practice everything centres on the client's interest for a given result. Sometimes there is the problem of reconciling the habit of former public servants going for the truth rather than their clients interest. This is a risk but by being aware of the risk it can end in a good result for the client.
BL: Good luck and thank you for your time.