Legal Business

Name partner departs arbitration boutique Volterra Fietta

Name partner departs arbitration boutique Volterra Fietta

Four years after leaving Latham & Watkins to launch arbitration and international law boutique Volterra Fietta, Stephen Fietta has resigned to set up his own shop.

Fietta, one of London’s leading international arbitration lawyers, is leaving the firm he founded with Robert Volterra (pictured) to set up his own practice. While Fietta is to depart in December, the firm will continue operating under the same name.

Fietta had joined Herbert Smith Freehills, where Volterra was a partner, as an associate 13 years ago, and moved with him to Latham & Watkins.

After leaving their partner positions at Latham & Watkins to launch their own firm, Volterra and Fietta were at the forefront of a shift in the legal market that saw large corporates and governments shift disputes work towards boutique law firms.

Since founding Volterra Fietta in 2011, the firm has grown to more than 30 lawyers and is estimated to generate around £15m a year. The governments of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Barbados are all clients of the firm.

Fietta’s decision to go it alone brings the number of partners down to five, with the firm having promoted Giorgio Francesco Mandelli to partner 18 months after joining from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer as counsel. The firm also lured Christophe Bondy to the firm as a partner after eight years as senior counsel to the Canadian government.

Known as an academic, Fietta lectures at King’s College in London and has spent time as a lawyer in the UK government and the Council of Europe.

Volterra said the firm’s partners were committed to the continued expansion of the firm but recognised Fietta wanted to go his own way.

‘Stephen has told Volterra Fietta that he intends to practise as a sole practitioner. It may be that Volterra Fietta will co-counsel with Stephen on client matters as appropriate in the future.’

Read more on legal boutiques in our feature ‘Go your own way – legal boutiques and the seductive appeal of being your own boss’ here

Legal Business

Comment: Legal boutiques – unheralded, thriving and coming after your lunch

Comment: Legal boutiques – unheralded, thriving and coming after your lunch

The rise of boutiques has been yet another development shaping the legal industry that no-one predicted. Conventional wisdom for years held that law firms should go global or specialise but that was largely in the context of mid-tier players becoming more tightly defined around a handful of profitable practice areas (which pretty much hasn’t happened either).

What we have seen instead – as we address this month – is a flourishing of highly specialised and lean law firms launched or expanded since the financial crisis reshaped the market. Obviously, much of this is due to the post-

Lehman emergence of litigation shops, among them Enyo Law, Signature Litigation and Volterra Fietta, off the back of a disputes boom and the stifling conflicts stored up by global law firms. And these firms have been very successful in a short space of time, in some cases generating levels of profitability comparable to elite City practices and eye-watering top-line growth.

But perhaps it was the 2014 launch of arbitration super-boutique Three Crowns that demonstrated the ambition of this new breed.

Since boutiques have proven that they can operate in a number of areas profitably with considerably lower costs than corporate law firms, the pitch is starting to look very attractive for clients, who benefit from more partner time and relative value.

The appeal for departing partners is obvious: they escape the conflicts and compromises of Big Law and regain the autonomy City leaders in reality only grant to the 20% of their partnerships viewed as strategically key. This attraction is further magnified if you are practising in one of the expanding range of product lines deemed secondary or surplus to the business.

But the appeal goes way beyond pounds and pence. Malcolm Gladwell’s celebrated book on over-achievers, Outliers, puts forward a great criteria for what makes work meaningful for individuals in the context of high performance. The book suggests meaningful work has complexity, to provide mental stimulation and sense of achievement; autonomy, which grants the individual a feeling of dignity and control of their own life; and has a strong link between effort and reward, which speaks for itself.

Well, you only have to look at those three factors to see how major law firms can fail to provide meaningful careers for many partners on at least two criteria and the seductive appeal of the boutique in comparison. Throw in the fact that partners have substantial resources to invest and the low start-up costs and you almost wonder why we haven’t seen more legal launches.

A question remains as to whether the boutique model can be applied to deal work as has happened in investment banking. There are obvious factors playing against that but I’m not sure they’re insurmountable. Perhaps the biggest barrier is that the kind of M&A veterans who might be inclined to strike out on their own are joining the City arms of US practices instead. But even if the specialist M&A shop never really emerges in law, boutiques are surely more than just here to stay, they look set to thrive.

For more analysis of the growth in boutique law firms see: Go your own way – legal boutiques and the seductive appeal of being your own boss