Kirkland tops global 2023 M&A rankings ahead of Latham as dealmaking hits 10-year low

Deal value fell 17% in 2023 to $2.9trn with volume down 6% to 55,200

Kirkland & Ellis topped the global M&A legal advisor rankings by deal value in 2023, the slowest full-year period for deal making since 2013, according to the London Stock Exchange Group (formerly Refinitiv).  

The Chicago firm – the largest in the world by revenue – advised on 649 deals worth $399.4bn, propelling it to the top spot from eighth place last year and holding off Latham & Watkins in second place, which worked on 604 deals worth $385.4bn. The firm ranked fourth in 2022, having been the runner up for the previous two years.  

Global M&A activity fell 17% from year-ago levels to $2.9trn, marking a 10-year low and a huge decrease on 2021’s record-breaking high of $5.9trn. The figure is also well short of pre-pandemic levels, with deal values reaching $4.11trn and $4.09trn respectively in 2018 and 2019, according to Dealogic. The slowdown in M&A deals came as ongoing interest rate increases, persistently high inflation rates and the threat of recession led to a more risk-averse position with buyers and lenders.  

Davis Polk & Wardwell ranked third by deal value, up from fourth in 2022, having worked on 149 deals worth $372.6bn. Sullivan & Cromwell – 2022’s top ranked firm – finished in fourth spot, advising on 171 deals worth $345.2bn. Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz completed the top five by deal value, working on 84 deals worth just over $310bn.  

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was again the highest ranked non-US firm, remaining in seventh place having advised on 238 deals worth $278.3bn. Other international firms in the top 25 included Clifford Chance, which fell one place to 15th, Linklaters (17th) and Allen & Overy (24th).  

In terms of region, M&A activity for US targets totalled $1.4trn over the course of the year, down 5% from 2022 and the slowest annual period for US dealmaking in six years. US deal making accounted for almost half (47%) of the M&A worldwide in 2023, up from 42% the year before. 

Meantime European-target M&A dropped 28% to $598.2bn, a 10-year low, while Asia Pacific deal making totalled $602.1bn, a 26% decrease and the slowest full-year period since 2013. 

Two mega mergers in the energy industry proved to be the largest of 2023 by value. ExxonMobil’s $65bn acquisition of rival Pioneer Natural Resources claimed the top spot. Davis Polk and Gibson Dunn, which fell five places to 12th in the rankings by deal value, were called in to advise the respective parties.

Paul Weiss-repped Chevron’s $60bn acquisition of smaller rival Hess came in second; Hess was advised on the matter by Wachtell.  

Those transactions helped energy and power overtake technology to become the top sector by M&A deal value in 2023. Deal making in the sector totalled $502.3bn over the course of the year, an increase of 11% on 2022 and accounting for 17% of the total. Meantime, industrials, technology and healthcare M&A each accounted for 13%. Industrials and technology M&A fell 14% and 47% respectively, while deal making in the healthcare sector was up 8% from 2022. 

The number of M&A deals in 2023 clocked in at just over 55,200, a drop of 6% compared to the year before and a three-year low.  

Goodwin Procter topped the legal advisor league tables by number of deals for the third consecutive year, advising on 879 transactions worth just over $124bn. DLA Piper rose one place to become the runner up, working on 796 deals worth $36.5bn, while Cooley’s 673 deals (worth just over $100bn) saw it rise three places to come in third.  

The top five was completed by Kirkland, which fell from second place in 2022 to fourth, while Latham & Watkins’ 604 deals saw it remain in fifth place.

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