Alessandra Fratini and Paolo Vergano, Partners at FratiniVergano

On 11 November a new law firm, FratiniVergano, opened in Brussels lead by name partners Alessandra Fratini and Paolo Vergano.

Brussels Legal spoke with Ms. Fratini and Mr. Vergano about why they started the firm, what challenges have arisen so far and how they plan to develop the firm.

BL: So why have you established FratiniVergano?

AF: Paolo and I have been colleagues since 1998 and our lawyers have been working together for a number of years. We both felt that, after so many years, the context in which we were working was no longer reflecting our ambitions and our views on how the legal profession could and should be practised. Therefore, we developed a new professional project.

PV: We are a young team, very determined and proud of the choice that we made and the challenge that we intend to face together.

We want to create and grow a dynamic and client-oriented firm based on a strong personal and professional bond between all lawyers and staff, matching the provision of high quality services with individual professional development.

BL: What is the firm's nature, in terms of its size and areas of expertise?

PV: We are currently six lawyers (two partners, three associates and one trainee) and one support staff member. Two more associates and a second trainee will join us as of next January. The core areas of expertise are EC internal market and competition law on the one side and international trade and food law on the other.

Regarding our EC and competition law practice, the firm specialises in EC antitrust and state aid law, EC litigation and internal market regulatory work with a focus on network industries and services. That practice is led by Alessandra, with Fabio Filpo, Andrea Carta and Gaia Pandolfi making up the rest of the team.

As for the international trade and food law practice, the firm specialises in EC and WTO trade law, with a focus on WTO dispute settlement, trade negotiation in the areas of services and agriculture, market access issues (TRQs, SPS, TBT and other non-tariff barriers) and EC food law. I lead that team which will include, as of 1 January 2008, Ignacio Carreño and Eugenia Laurenza.

BL: Starting your own firm is a big step. What have been the main challenges you have faced so far?

PV: Establishing a new law firm is not an easy task. We had a million things to plan and organise, from the logistical aspects to the fiscal, legal and administrative set up of the firm.

On top of that, many occurrences were unexpected and forced us to improvise or react suddenly to unforeseeable events. For example we had to comply in a very short period of time with bureaucracy and red tape and set up the firm's infrastructure (from finding office space and negotiating with suppliers to setting-up a reliable IT and telephone system).

All of us literally had to spend the day on 'ordinary' business and part of the night planning, moving and setting-up our systems. We wish that we could have taken it more easily! But going through such 'hardship' helped us build a true team spirit and get ready for the real challenge: the EU legal market.

BL: How have clients reacted to the new firm?

AF: Enthusiastically! Continuity of service to our existing clients has been our first concern throughout this period. We are proud to have been able to guarantee such continuity from day one, as if nothing had ever happened.

However, I must admit that, oddly enough, keeping our existing clients through this period has not been a major issue. Our personal and consolidated client relations have helped make the transition smooth. The vast majority of our clients have actually been very supportive of the firm's creation. They knew where we were coming from, what prompted us to take such a decision, and fully backed our vision and departure. The fact that they immediately trusted our new entity and enthusiastically agreed to share our challenge has meant a lot to us.

BL: And how does FratiniVergano distinguish itself from other Italian practices?

PV: From a professional perspective, we see ourselves as part of a wider European context, rather than simply being an Italian law firm abroad. Each one of us has spent considerable time in Brussels and some of us gained significant experience in other countries. FratiniVergano was established to become a new point of reference in Brussels’ legal landscape.

While we consider our Italian background a value, our goal is to create and develop a European law firm at the centre of Europe. Practically-speaking the official languages of the firm are English and Italian, but we also correspond in French, Spanish and German.

The way in which we want to distinguish ourselves from most other firms is to offer personalised legal services of the highest standard to clients across Europe and abroad, while bringing back at centre-stage a human touch.

BL: What plans are there to develop the practice in the coming years?

PV: The first couple of years will be devoted to consolidating and building further the existing practices. We will do so with the current resources and with tailor-made alliances and, if need be, cooperation with like-minded firms.

AF: Size and numerical expansion are not an immediate goal. We want to pursue quality and a sustainable degree of growth. We believe that the practice can be developed first and foremost by our individual growth in expertise and reputation.

As part of that we will encourage teaching and lecturing commitments, publication on law journals and periodicals, participation at conferences, technical assistance work and pro-bono activities.

PV: Numerical growth will eventually result from the hiring of junior lawyers. To that end, we encourage all enthusiastic young lawyers to apply for our trainee programme and we look forward to working soon with as many of them as possible!

BL: Good luck and thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues:

Mario Todino, Resident Brussels Office Partner, Gianni Origoni Grippo

Andrea De Matteis, Partner of Labruna Mazziotti Segni