Iniziative

Global Justice Forum di Vienna

Ultimo aggiornamento: 9 aprile 2013

Convegni

Cooperation in “Cross Border” litigation

Avv. Stefano Commodo

First of all I would like to express my personal satisfaction for being here with you to carry on the wonderful experience wich started in 2005 with the first meeting of the Global Justice Forum in London.

It is indeed a pleasure to speak next to Robert Lieff, who deserves all our gratitude for launching a very useful initiative for our professional practice. In a world that is becoming smaller every day and where there are growing interactions between different legal systems and different cultural areas, this form of cooperation is certainly a very good opportunity for our law firms.

But it is also a beautiful experience in human terms, we have formed new friendships, going beyond sheer professional collaboration.

I would also like to thank Bernhard Tonninger in particular and all the Colleagues of his law firm for having the insight first and then the capability to follow on the experience of the Global Justice Forum and frame it in a wider perspective of collaboration between our law practices, wich today we have been called to better define and implement all together.

Bernard’s contribution seems to perfectly suit the new needs of law firms and to further explore his point I would like to start from some brief remarks on the peculiar conditions of our profession in Italy and by highlighting the opportunities that can arise from the participation in an international network.

In my country there is currently a strong debate on the rules of our profession: we are discussing topics like the use of advertising, the contingency fee agreement, the option of setting up law companies and many more.

The debate however, should not disregard the very simple fact that in Italy there are 200.000 lawyers and an average of three or four lawyers in each firm: for instance in Turin, my city, one of the leading industrial centres in the country, the number of law firms exceeding twenty-five professionals are only four.

This can certainly be traced back to the perception of the legal profession mainly as an intellectual practice, rather than one also connected to business activities. We also find it difficult to appreciate that clients increasingly need to address to one single law firm and receive from it very broad assistance in different law branches.

While the Italian Bar is looking for a new role, the country is changing fast, Italian businessmen are moving all around the world and need legal assistance there where they decide to start up new businesses.

Italy receives foreign investments for which legal assistance is required on the spot. possibly from professionals that can interact and work with the professionals of the investor’s country of origin. And let us not forget that corporations are not the only source of investments for Italy, there are many foreigners who buy a house in Venice, Rome or in Tuscany, choosing our country as bueno retiro.

Italy – similarly to any other country today – is increasingly resembling a large, and hopefully peaceful, aircraft carrier, with people and companies coming and going relentlessly.

The legal profession is called on to quickly respond to the diverse needs of clients who are more and more operating as a network and begin to look at the lawyer as one of their many suppliers. Law firms should therefore be able to provide assistance in different branches of the law, be capable of relating to colleagues in different countries and providing at least a rough cost estimate.

These multiple tasks need to be performed in a complex environment that represent an opportunity and a threat at the same time and that has certainly changed the working scenario of lawyers, similarly to many other professions and social groups.

In summary and with no claim of being exhaustive here are some of the current trends: our world has become smaller and it favours the preventive “shopping” of the most efficient Judge; the impact of EC law in Europe and of international conventions; an economy based on services rather than manufacturing; the concurrence/confrontation of constantly changing regional and national regulations; the widespread use of arbitration in commercial lawsuits; multiculturalism; the constant evolution of ICT technologies.

The quickly changing scenario should not frighten us because changes always bring with themselves new opportunities that lawyers can grasp, provided that we are able to offer our services without losing the very important personal and trust relation with our clients. We must be able to communicate to our clients, no matter whether small or important, that all our skills and tenacity will always be on their side.

Against the background of the new challenges of specialisation and global presence – and of course we should take the opportunity of these challenges to enhance personal growth through life-long learning – requiring a combination of the local with the global in our practice and the assistance of our clients in their personal or business initiatives in different markets, it is all the more vital to collaborate with foreign law firms. We attach particular importance to it not just because of the obvious opportunity of assisting Colleagues of other countries in Italy, but because of the chance of coming into contact with different systems and experiences, thereby acquiring knowledge that, in the global village of law, turns out to be very useful before our courts as well.

We are pleased of the precious experience gathered during our collaboration with Robert Lieff and with the Colleagues of the Lieff, Cabraser, Heinemann & Bernstein law firm, in the multiparty action where we are representing 500 Italian plaintiffs contaminated by blood factor products in the case currently pending before the Federal Court of the Northern District of Illinois. Through this collaboration we acquired new knowledge that we can now use, with the required adjustments, before the Italian Courts.

A case in point is that of the fire occurred at the Turin Thyssen-Krupp plant in December 2007 when 7 people died. Our law firm was entrusted by the Counsels for the Defence, made by twelve law firms, with managing the negotiations with the Company to obtain compensation for all the family members of the victims.

It is well-known that in Italy, as is generally the case in the rest of Europe, “punitive damages” are non acknowledged and all the attempts to introduce them were rejected by a number of different Courts. Well, thanks to the experience acquired working side by side with our US Colleagues we have formulated the figure of “exemplary damages” – justified by the particular severity of the company behaviour, with the CEO charged of wilful murder in the criminal proceedings – thus obtaining a compensation close to four times the amount usually liquidated after a negotiation.

However, I am also thinking of the economic analysis of law in the United States that played a key role in attracting attention to consumer protection. It was later adopted by other law systems and applied to identify profiles of liability for banks and advisors for the placement of bonds and similia, product-related damage, etc.

I do believe that the protection of investors in financial products will indeed be the field leading to a strong collaboration between law firms in different countries in the near future. I will therefore listen to Bruce Leppla’s contribution on the topic with great interest, since we are dealing with many cases of clients involved in the Lehman or Madof lawsuits and we need to understand what forms of protection can be obtained for them before US courts.

From the few words that I have exchanged with you, we can all feel reassured by the belief that brought us all here, that is to say that a stable collaboration with Colleagues from other countries will improve the quality of our professional activity and enrich the set of knowledge and opportunities we can offer to our clients.

The Ambrosio & Commodo law firm that I founded in 1983 together with Renato AMBROSIO is mainly a civil law firm that consolidated its experience in the fields of corporate and trade law, labour law, civil liability, family law as well as savings and real estate investment law: my Colleagues and I believe that the topic of our current meeting can become an important driving factor for our future growth.

We obviously need to better understand how to make this collaboration of ours more operational and “visible”, knowing that we certainly have the advantage of representing a group of medium-sized law firms, all well rooted in their respective areas, and more flexible in responding more efficiently than law firms that have reached the size of a service industry, with hundreds of professionals.

Since 1996 our law firm has created a small network of “friendly” firms (the website is in-law.net) , with the following aims: develop a “soft” connection between and among the various firms to provide a broad-range offer to clients, both in terms of subject matters and location; manage this form of collaboration without massive management cost for the law firm that keeps its autonomy and identity; make our collaboration visible to enable the member law firms to represent their clients well beyond their geographical area; offer each firm the opportunity of a proactive customer-oriented practice, consolidating client retention through the regular distribution of an electronic Newsletter; organize events to promote the various law firms, in compliance with the ethical norms of each respective country.

I think that we can now include these aims in our decisions about how to make our collaboration more stable and visible and with the contribution of us all we will build further on them. Of course attention should be given to the quality standard we want to set for ourselves and guarantee to our clients – the minimum standard obviously being our commitment to comply with our respective codes of conduct.

I hope that this meeting in the magnificent city of Vienna, capital of Mitteleuropa and bridge between East and West will let us catch all the good opportunities that are within our reach.

Thank you for your attention.

Stefano Commodo