Sullivan & Cromwell hangs on to number one spot in global M&A legal advisor rankings

US firm topped ranking by deal value, narrowly ahead of Kirkland & Ellis and Davis Polk & Wardwell, according to Refinitiv

Global M&A activity declined to a 10-year low in the first nine months of the year Shutterstock

Wall Street firm Sullivan & Cromwell topped the M&A legal advisor rankings by deal value in the first nine months of the year as global M&A activity slumped to a 10-year low, according to Refinitiv’s Q3 Global M&A Review.

Sullivan & Cromwell advised on 136 deals worth $269bn in the nine months to the end of September, keeping it on track to be the world’s number one M&A legal advisor for a third consecutive year. 

Kirkland & Ellis ended the third quarter narrowly behind in second place, working on 465 deals worth $267bn, while Davis Polk & Wardwell was in third spot having advised on 100 deals worth just under $265bn. Latham & Watkins and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom completed the top five, working on $244bn and $215bn-worth of deals respectively.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was the highest ranked UK firm, taking sixth spot having advised on 170 deals worth $189bn. Linklaters was second-highest with almost $65bn of deals, moving it up to 19th place from 29th in 2022.

Global deal activity clocked in at $2trn in the first nine months of the year, 27% lower than at this point in the calendar a year ago and the slowest pace since 2013. It was also the slowest third quarter for deal making since 2012, despite activity increasing 16% compared to Q2.

US activity accounted for 44% of all dealmaking over the period, up from 42% at this point in calendar in 2022. European target M&A dropped 45% compared to a year ago to just under $392bn – another 10-year low. Likewise, Asia Pacific saw dealmaking dwindle, falling 26% to $456bn, also the slowest pace in 10 years.

Deals that landed in the third quarter included JM Smucker’s $5.6bn acquisition of Twinkie owner Hostess Brands (involving Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Morgan Lewis & Bockius), and Smurfit Kappa’s $11bn acquisition of WestRock (involving a cast of top firms including Freshfields, Wachtell, Clifford Chance, Cravath Swaine & Moore and Paul Weiss)

While the value of deals was sharply lower, deal volumes also slipped 8% to 41,000 in the opening nine months – a three-year low, Refinitiv said.

Goodwin Procter topped the league tables by number of deals, working on 636 transactions worth around $106bn. Cooley was a clear second, up from sixth spot in 2022, having worked on 559 deals worth $59bn. Kirkland & Ellis was third, while DLA Piper and Latham & Watkins completed the top five.

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