Altenburger turns 40: Italy worths more than 15% of its sales

(Translation: Alessio Foderi, article «Altenburger  ne fa 40: l’Italia vale più del 15% del suo fatturato» published on MAG 107)

In 2018, the Swiss law firm Altenburger turned 40. It was 1978, when the lawyer Peter Altenburger, who named the firm, founded a small niche boutique in Zurich, specialized in tax, corporate and m&a. «We were among the first lawyers in Switzerland to deal with this kind of combination: tax, corporate law and m&a», Massimo Calderan (pictured), a partner in Zurich, told MAG. At that time, there were five professionals in the team. But the number has expanded over the years reaching 26 units (38 including the staff) defending its high seniority component and counting nine shareholders and three counsels. Among the latter, the same founder Peter Altenburger.

«Contrary to what happens in different realities, in our firm the most experienced professionals follow the matters closely and do not totally transfer the work to the fee earners. This modus operandi is highly appreciated by our clients», explains the lawyer.

How the team has grown

The years between 1999 and 2016 were key to the law firm’s growth, both in terms of people and turnover. During this period, thanks to the arrival of new people, all with an international background, Altenburger was able to expand its language skills. «In addition to English and the three national languages – Italian, French and German – today we also work in Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Chinese and Polish», says Calderan.

Multilingualism is indeed one of the main hallmarks of the firm. «There is no one among us who does not have at least one link with foreign countries, whether it is an educational or professional experience or the nationality of one of the parents. This background has given us great mind and cultural openness, and so a great help to understand what the client wants», the lawyer adds.

Geographical expansion

As Calderan recalls, the key years for the law firm are two in particular: 2003 and 2014. The first corresponds to the opening of the Geneva headquarters and the second is when the firm arrived in Lugano. The firm decided to start a geographical expansion, the lawyer says, following an analysis of the needs of its customers, which are mainly international and interested in starting or strengthening activities in the country. «Presence of the whole of Switzerland is important since in the various cantons languages and mentalities are different. For example, in Geneva the authorities must be contacted in French, the language of the canton. Or, for instance, tax rulings are obtained from both federal and cantonal tax authorities», he adds.

Areas of activity’s increase

However, the law firm’s growth also covered the areas of activity and services to offer to clients, broadening the spectrum from taxation and corporate to litigation, banking and finance, insurance and real estate. «Corporate remains the strongest practice of the law firm and is worth about 30% of our turnover, which is in total around 10 million; insurance, banking and wealth management contribute about 25%; litigation, including international arbitration and mediation, 20%; taxation 15% and real estate 10%», explains the lawyer.

Relations with Italy

In addition to the six departments that compose the law firm, there are three special desks for the management of business activities between Switzerland and other countries (Italy; Russia/CSI; China).

«We work a lot with Italy», explains Calderan, who, in addition to the corporate and m&a business team, is in charge of the Italy-Switzerland team of eight people. «The clientele ranges from the individuals to the small-medium enterprises, mainly from some regions of the North (Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Emilia-Romagna), but we are also growing in Lazio and Campania. We follow them in all their relations with Switzerland, from opening offices, to work permits, authorizations, etc. The activities with Italy weigh more than 15% on the turnover of the firm».

As for the relations with the Italian law firms, Altenburger has no exclusive partnership agreements, but works with all the major firms. «We have collaborated with Gop, BonelliErede, Chiomenti, Cba, R&P legal and many other smaller local firms and then, internationally, we join a professional network of various law firms, including some operating also in Italy».