Federico Sutti: “An international outlook mixed with a strong local presence is a winning strategy”

Federico Sutti is not only the managing partner of Dentons in Italy but the architect of the firm’s launch in the country. Eight months after this launch, we met with Sutti in Milan and discussed his vision for the future.

Posted Wednesday, March 29th 2017
Federico Sutti: “An international outlook mixed with a strong local presence is a winning strategy”

Leaders League: What was Dentons's strategy for entering the Italian the market?

Federico Sutti: The project was born in the summer of 2015. Traditionally, the firm’s strategy has always been based on mergers with firms with strong local roots, the so-called “brownfield” acquisition. In Italy, for different reasons, this has not happened. Over the past few years Dentons has been looking at Italy for opportunities and our paths crossed at a moment when my vision totally diverged from the perspective of DLA Piper’s new management. A strategy based on the magic circle law firms’ model of verticalization that in my opinion can’t fit with the Italian market at all. So we decided to join forces to start this new adventure.


What attracted you to the Dentons project?

Dentons has a peculiar and unique model, which differentiates itself from the strategy of other international law firms. Its polycentric model is adapted to the local market and the local culture, permitting tailored and agile solutions. The verein structure, with different regions represented, was really attractive to me, an innovative way where collaboration is crucial. The mix between the international outlook and the strong local presence is a winning strategy to enter the market.

I believe that in Italy it is really hard to adopt the English model, as it is too bureaucratic and centralized. The same goes for the “pure” American models, which impose higher fees that are unsustainable for the Italian market. In this scenario, Dentons’ proposal sounded like a perfect solution: a global platform without all the restrictions that prevent growth. So I agreed to share this new project with enthusiasm.


Is there still room for international firms to enter the competitive Italian legal market?

I believe there is a lot of room to fill for international law firms in Italy. If we look at other markets in Europe, such as France or in Germany, we see that international firms still maintain a leading position. In Italy it is not like that, mostly for reasons that I explained before.

In the last few months, I have had opportunities to discuss with many partners working for Italian and foreign law firms, and I learned that the Italian market is very interested in what Dentons has to offer. Due to its characteristics, the polycentric model makes the difference and it is attracting many talents, its model permits an Italian lawyer to play in Italy, with Italian rules. Organizational matters and fees are all decided on a local level but we are taking advantage of its international context. This, I think, is the added value of Dentons’s proposal.


How did you build your team?

The team is still being put together, but there are principally three criteria: professionals must be known in the market, naturally have a high quality of work, and a client portfolio. I started with a team of eight lawyers and two staff that was the maximum number allowed under my separation agreement with DLA Piper. It was a small full-service team focusing on real estate, energy and corporate matters. Then, Aldo Calza, co-founder of a boutique after leaving DLA in 2011, joined us, managing the employment practice.

Since February 2016, we have not stopped growing thanks to the arrival of Sara Biglieri (litigation and arbitration) and her team, Stefano Speroni (corporate M&A), Andrea Fiorelli (tax), Claudio Giammarino (China desk), Luca Pocobelli (private equity) and Michele Carpagnano (antitrust). Today we have a total of 51 professionals. Our next step will be expanding in the banking and finance area.


What are your ambitions for the future?

Dentons is organized globally with 10 practice areas. Our ambition is to have full-service capabilities and in every practice we want to compete with the leading players in the market. In the long term we would like to have two partners in every department, maybe four or five in corporate M&A. From now until the end of 2018 we will hopefully assemble a team composed of 20 to 25 partners and 80 to 90 associates, at which point our philosophy will be to promote internal growth.