Skadden tops M&A league rankings in first quarter as deal value rebounds

Wachtell and Paul Weiss follow closely behind as megadeals contribute to 38% rise in global deal value

Deal value hit $797.6bn in the first quarter Shutterstock

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom led the global M&A legal advisor rankings by deal value in the opening three months of the year as overall deal values rose by more than a third compared to the first quarter of 2023, though activity slumped to a nine-year low, according to the London Stock Exchange Group.

Skadden worked on 45 deals worth $150bn, including repping Ansys on its $35bn sale to Synopsys and Juniper Networks on its $14bn sale to Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), propelling it to first place in the rankings. Skadden finished the same period in 2023 in second spot, eventually dropping to sixth in the final rankings. 

Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz followed narrowly behind in second, working on just short of $147.9bn of deals, including advising HPE on the Juniper deal and Capital One on its $35.3bn acquisition of Discover. Paul Weiss was third, working on 33 deals worth almost $147.8bn, including repping Endeavour Energy Partners on its $26bn sale to Diamondback Energy.

Davis Polk & Wardwell and Sullivan & Cromwell topped the Q1 top five, working on $93bn and $88bn of deals respectively. Last year’s leading firm Kirkland & Ellis ended the opening quarter in eighth spot, advising on $80bn of deals.

The value of global M&A deals jumped 38% to $797.6bn in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, but that was from a smaller tally of deals – just 10,700 – a 31% decrease on the same period in 2023 and the lowest at this point in the calendar since 2015. This dynamic (rising value, falling volumes) signalled a resurgence in megadeals, with transactions worth at least $10bn more than doubling in Q1 to $278bn – the strongest opening quarter for such deals since 2019. Activity was mainly driven by a buoyant US-targeted market, which jumped 61% to a 35-year high of $485bn. Energy and power deals led activity by sector, accounting for 18% of overall deals – $145.7bn – an 80% increase on 2023 levels.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was the highest ranked UK firm, ending the first quarter in 14th spot having worked on 43 deals worth just short of $41bn. Linklaters (18), Herbert Smith Freehills (21) and Slaughter and May (24) were the only other non-US firms in the top 25.

Meantime, Goodwin Procter led the league table rankings by deal volume, working on 161 deals worth $60bn. Kirkland was second with 151 deals and Latham & Watkins third with 129 deals worth almost $85bn.

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