Sullivan leads global M&A rankings ahead of Latham and White & Case as deal activity hits new record

Dealmaking reaches $4.4trn in the first nine months of 2021 in strongest period for cross-border M&A since records began
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Sullivan & Cromwell has topped the global M&A legal advisor rankings by volume during the first nine months of the year as activity smashed through the previous full year record, according to Refinitiv’s latest Global M&A Review.

The Wall Street leader advised on 183 deals valued at $535.3bn, accounting for a 12.2% market share. That was more than enough to move it up from third place at the same point in 2020 to the top spot. 

Latham & Watkins maintained its second slot, year on year. The 657 deals it has advised on were worth $469bn. White & Case was third, advising on 385 deals worth $443bn. That tally moved it up from ninth in 2020 (see tables below).

Los Angeles-based Latham’s great ‘out of town’ US rival Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis secured fourth spot, up from sixth last year, with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in fifth. Davis Polk & Wardwell slipped to sixth from pole position at this stage in 2020 with Skadden, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, Cravath Swaine & Moore and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer completing the top 10.

Freshfields is the first non-US firm in the ranking, just one place behind Cravath Swaine & Moore, which last week lost New York corporate partner Damien Zoubek to the UK Magic Circle firm. The other international firms in the top 25, ranked by value, are Herbert Smith Freehills (12th), Allen & Overy (16th) and Clifford Chance (23rd).

Some $1.6trn of deals were registered in the third quarter alone, making it the busiest quarter for global M&A since records began in 1980. It was also the fifth quarter in a row to surpass the $1trn mark, Refinitiv said. Meantime, the number of deals exceeded 45,000 in the first nine months of the year, also a record high.

A host of other M&A records were set in the first three quarters of the year. Private equity-backed M&A hit a record high, accounting for almost a fifth of M&A activity over that period. Some 10,800 private equity-backed deals were announced, 69% more than in 2020.

Mega-deals also set new records, with the total value of global deals sized between $5bn and $10bn ballooning to $661bn – 134% higher than a year ago and an all-time high.

Meantime, cross-border M&A activity almost doubled to $1.6trn in the first nine months, becoming the strongest period for cross-border deals since records began. In addition, US deals accounted for 45% of global M&A, also a record high, Refinitiv said.

US firm Goodwin Procter – which has been investing in its US and European private equity capability – topped the global M&A legal advisor rankings by deal count advising on 769 deals, accounting for 1.7% of the market and maintaining its number one ranking at this stage of the calendar. That was 83 more deals than second placed Kirkland, which worked on 686, lifting it from third place in 2020. Latham climbed one spot to third, advising on 657 deals.

DLA Piper slipped from second to fourth, advising on 540 deals. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati jumped 23 places in the rankings to fifth, working on 403 deals. White & Case, Jones Day, CMS, Baker McKenzie and Willkie Farr & Gallagher completed the top 10 by deal count.

Refinitiv: Global Announced Deals by Value, First Nine Months

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 3 Sullivan & Cromwell 535.3 183
2 2 Latham & Watkins 468.9 657
3 9 White & Case 433.3 385
4 6 Kirkland & Ellis 427.1 686
5 13 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 410.5 195
6 1 Davis Polk & Wardwell 379.3 163
7 7 Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 370.4 219
8 10 Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz 354.4 89
9 25 Cravath Swaine & Moore 330.3 71
10 4 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 303.3 233

Refinitiv: Global Announced Deals by Volume, First Nine Months

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 2 Goodwin Procter 138 769
2 1 Kirkland & Ellis  427.1 686
3 3 Latham & Watkins 468.9 657
4 5 DLA Piper 121 540
5 4 Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati 82.3 403
6 10 White & Case 433.3 385
7 28 Jones Day 155.5 331
8 7 CMS 25.2 301
9 15 Baker McKenzie 85.6 288
10 21 Willkie Farr & Gallagher 124.8 286

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