Sullivan & Cromwell tops M&A rankings in H1 as deal making tumbles to three-year low

First half deal value is lowest since 2020 but activity picked up 33% in Q2 compared to Q1, according to Refinitiv

Sullivan & Cromwell has maintained its place at the top of the M&A legal advisor rankings by deal value in the first half of the year as worldwide deal activity slumped 37% to a three-year low, according to Refinitiv’s H1 Global M&A Review.

Sullivan & Cromwell – which has topped the rankings for the past two years and in Q1 of 2023 – worked on 91 deals worth $210.4bn in the first half of the year to claim the top spot. In second place was Latham & Watkins, which advised on 246 deals worth $190.9bn, with Kirkland & Ellis ($159.6bn), Paul Weiss ($156.5bn) and Davis Polk & Wardwell ($148.0bn) completing the top five by deal value.

Worldwide M&A activity totalled US$1.3trn during the first half of 2023, a decrease of 37% compared to last year and the slowest first-half period since 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. However, dealmaking increased 33% in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the first quarter, marking it the strongest quarter for worldwide M&A activity in 12 months. By number of worldwide deals, nearly 27,300 deals were announced during the first half of 2023, a decrease of 9% compared to last year and a three-year low.

Only two UK firms featured in the top 20 – Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, in eighth place, advising on 102 deals worth $114.3bn, and its Magic Circle rival Linklaters, which advised on 93 deals worth $49.5bn to place 18th. 

Some regions were harder hit by the slump than others. In Europe, M&A activity fell to a 10-year low, with deal values dropping by 49% to $262.8bn, while in Asia Pacific deal values dropped 35% to $294.1bn, the slowest first half since 2020.

The US accounted for 43% of all dealmaking in the first half of the year, with $566.4bn of deals – though that is still a significant drop on 2022 levels (40%) and the slowest opening period for US dealmaking in three years. Meantime, mega deals (those valued at $10bn or more) declined by 53% to $259.2bn, the lowest value of mega deals since 2017.

Goodwin Procter once again topped the rankings by deal count, working on 400 transactions. Cooley was second with 349 deals, while Kirkland & Ellis was third with 303 deals. DLA Piper and Latham & Watkins completed the top five with 248 and 246 deals respectively.

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