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Mergermarket Legal Advisory Rankings – 1Q24

  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom takes top spot by deal value globally and in the Americas
  • Goodwin Procter atop global list by deal count, edges out DLA Piper
  • White & Case heads Europe, and China’s Fangda Partners tops Asia-Pacific by deal value

Global M&A bounced back to USD 920bn in 1Q24, up 33% from the same period last year, according to the latest Mergermarket figures, as investors plucked up the courage to chase larger deals, valuations inched upward and stock markets soared. The future of M&A, at least this year, appears brighter, with the likelihood of interest-rate cuts in developed economies on the horizon, dispelling shadows cast by sticky inflation and unemployment data.

Riding the deal-making wave, and taking top spot in Mergermarket’s global legal advisory rankings, is Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which climbed three spots from 1Q23, working on an impressive USD 174bn worth of deals in the first three months of this year. The firm also dominated value rankings in the US, while securing second place in Europe. Of 46 deals, Skadden advised sell-side players on 24, with the largest being its work with Pennsylvania-based software firm Ansys [NASDAQ:ANSS] during its ongoing sale to California-headquartered systems group Synopsys [NASDAQ:SNPS] for USD 33.6bn.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a new first-quarter entrant onto the global scene, saw business balloon 386% from 15th place last year, landing a touch below Skadden with USD 165bn-worth of deals to its name. It also cemented its role in the US, bagging second place. The firm has won several M&A plaudits this year, including those of The American Lawyer and China Business Law Journal. In one of its larger deals, it advised General Electric (GE) [NYSE:GE] on its USD 38bn GE Vernova spin-off. Paul, Weiss has long been GE’s pre-eminent lawyer, working on more than USD 121bn worth of deals over the past five years, per Mergermarket’s company profile page.

Rounding out the top 10 global legal advisors were Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, almost neck and neck with each other at USD 77bn and USD 73bn, respectively. Both firms showed triple-digit percentage jumps from 1Q23 to land in the elite rankings. The former’s largest deal accounted for almost 50% of its entire deal value and featured advice to financial advisor PJT Partners, which in turn provided sell-side advice to Discover Financial Services in its ongoing USD 35bn sale to Capital One Financial. Gibson, Dunn advised General Electric on its GE Vernova spin-off.

Grasping the nettle by deal count was Goodwin Procter, with 158 deals to its credit, up a notch from its second place in 1Q23, overtaking last year’s winner DLA Piper, which slipped to third. Notably, Goodwin’s deal count was down 48 deals from last year, another indication of how fewer deals are being announced, but are of a much higher value. Goodwin placed in the top five for deal count in both Europe and the US. In second spot was Kirkland & Ellis, with 153 deals to its credit, and an impressive USD 102bn of deal value.

Regional appeal

With about 95% of its deals originating in the Americas, it was perhaps no surprise that Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom dominated deal values in the region, rising four spots from 1Q23. Second place also mirrored the global rankings, with Paul, Weiss losing out to Skadden by only a few billion dollars. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz jumped one spot from last year to land in the top-three, working on USD 152bn of deal value.

Among the top 10 names, a majority saw three-digit percentage jumps from last quarter, while only Sullivan & Cromwell recorded a 14% drop in deal value. A new entrant, up from 122nd in 1Q23, was Morrison and Foerster, with 21 deals worth USD 44bn. The first quarter typically has new names in the rankings given that single deals with large values can catapult smaller firms with historically smaller deal sizes in the top 20.

Kirkland and Ellis, the last of the firms to scrape into the USD 100bn+ category, dominated Americas’ deal count rankings, with 147 deals to its name. Cooley and Goodwin Procter came in second and third, respectively, as the top three companies from 1Q23 continued to play musical chairs.

In Europe, there was significant change among the leading players by deal value, as some ‘Magic Circle’ law firms such as Linklaters and Slaughter and May jumped into the top 10, while Kirkland & Ellis sank to 16th and Allen & Overy disappeared altogether from the top 20. White & Case ascended to top spot by value, involved in USD 145bn-worth of deals, representing a spike of almost 150% from 1Q23. It was followed by Skadden and Sullivan & Cromwell. Aside from Slaughter & May, a few notable additions to the top 20 were Denmark-based Moalem Weitemeyer (USD 17.5bn) and Gorrissen Federspiel (USD 11.2bn), as well as Italy’s Legance Avvocati Associati (USD 11.2bn).

The same top-three names have dominated 1Q24 by deal count, albeit in a slightly different order. These are CMS, with 99 deals under its belt, DLA Piper (97), and Eversheds Sutherland (63). Norway-based Schjodt raced into the top 10 from 32nd place last year.

In Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan), local firms have starred in deal value charts, with China’s Fangda Partners leading the way and advising on USD 13bn of transactions, up from 10th position during the same period last year. The UK’s Herbert Smith Freehills held second, while India’s Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas took third place, celebrating a 161% jump from 1Q23. In the top 10, the two firms with the sharpest rises were India’s AZB & Partners and Australia’s Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

India dominated the rankings by deal count, sealing off the top four spots. Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas climbed one place to first with 53 deals. It was followed by Trilegal, AZB & Partners and Khaitan & Co. Rounding out the top five was Herbert Smith Freehills – the only law firm in the top five by deal count that had fewer deals than last year. South Korean firms Kim & Chang and Lee & Ko also cropped up on the deal count table in seventh and 10th positions, respectively.

Legal advisors on PE buyouts

The value of global buyouts in 2024 has risen 23% year-on-year to USD 190bn, with even higher values expected this year, as executive confidence returns and acquisition finance becomes cheaper.

Leading the global charts by value is Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, with a 15% rise in deal value from last quarter, and up to USD 38bn. Its largest deal, contributing almost 30% to its total, was as buyside counsel to Stone Point Capital, which, together with Clayton Dubilier & Rice, is in the process of acquiring Truist Insurance Holdings for USD 12.3bn. In second position, advising KKR in its pending USD 10bn bid for a 50% stake in medical technology firm Cotiviti Holdings, is Latham & Watkins. In third place, also working with Stone Point on the Truist deal, is Paul, Weiss.

Heading the pack for deal count in private-equity (PE) buyouts is Goodwin Procter, with 63 deals, followed by Kirkland & Ellis and Cooley, with 57 and 59 deals, respectively.

Legal advisors on PE exits

Meanwhile, exit values have expanded 29% to USD 105bn, as exit options, including listing on buoyant markets, have opened up.

Latham & Watkins jumped one spot from last quarter to lead the way in PE exits, with USD 24bn of deal value. Its largest transaction was as sell-side advisor to SRS Distribution in its ongoing USD 18.2bn sale to Home Depot, which should provide an exit to Berkshire Partners and Leonard Green & Partners. Latham & Watkins was followed by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, with USD 14bn of deals and an 86% rise from last quarter, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, with a 133% jump, with USD 10.4bn of deals.

In terms of deal count, Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins stood first and second, as they did in 1Q23, with 22 and 14 deals, respectively. They were followed by DLA Piper, which jumped two places to land third.

With M&A firmly back on the menu, intermediaries – at both financial and legal firms – look set for rich pickings this year, especially in technology, energy and healthcare.

Legal Advisor ranking by deal value:

Global Ranking Europe Ranking America Ranking APAC ex Japan Ranking
Legal Advisors 1Q 2024 1Q 2023 1Q 2024 1Q 2023 1Q 2024 1Q 2023 1Q 2024 1Q 2023
Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 1 4 2 14 1 5 9 11
Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison 2 15              –              – 2 14              –                        –
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz 3 6              –              – 3 4              –                        –
Sullivan & Cromwell 4 1 3 4 6 1 18 69
Latham & Watkins 5 7 9 1 5 7              –                        –
Kirkland & Ellis 6 2 16 8 4 6              –                        –
White & Case 7 8 1 9 7 11              –                        –
Davis Polk & Wardwell 8 9 17 25 9 13              –                        –
Cravath, Swaine & Moore 9 16 12 16 8 18              –                        –
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher 10 19              –              – 10 17              –                        –

Source: Mergermarket. Data correct as of 31 March 2024

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Please follow the link below to access the complete Global and Regional M&A Rankings 1Q24 report.