06 Jan 2022

Sullivan tops global 2021 M&A rankings ahead of Latham as deal-making hits new record

Deal value reaches $5.9tr – almost $2tr more than previous record set in 2015

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Sullivan & Cromwell topped the global M&A legal advisor rankings by deal value in 2021 amid a record-breaking year for deal-making, according to Refinitiv’s Global M&A full year review.

The Wall Street firm advised on 251 deals worth more than $662bn, propelling it to the top spot from third place last year, holding off Latham & Watkins in second place, which worked on 943 deals worth $604bn. That is the second year in a row that the Los Angeles-based firm has finished in the runner-up spot.

Global M&A activity reached $5.9tr, smashing through the previous full year record of $4.2tr set in 2015. The boom in M&A deals came as markets bounced back from a slowdown in the first half of 2020 as uncertainty around the Covid-19 pandemic caused transactions to grind to a halt. Last year’s record-breaking total was 64% higher than the value of deals announced in 2020. 

Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis ranked third by deal value, up from sixth in 2020 having worked on 977 deals worth $572bn. Davis Polk & Wardwell—2020’s top ranked firm—finished in fourth spot, advising on 238 deals worth just short of $530bn. White & Case completed the top five by deal value, working on 516 deals worth almost $513bn. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was the highest ranked non-US firm, slipping from fifth in 2020 to 11th having advised on 347 deals worth $369bn. Other international firms in the top 25 included Herbert Smith Freehills, climbing 12 places to 12th, Allen & Overy (17th) and Clifford Chance (20th).

The number of M&A deals clocked in at more than 63,000, the largest haul since Refinitiv records began in 1980 and 24% more than were announced in 2020.

Goodwin Procter topped the legal advisor league tables by number of deals, advising on 1,083 transactions (worth almost $177bn) and switching places with Kirkland, which dropped to second. Latham was a non-mover in third spot, with DLA Piper also holding on to fourth place having advised on 857 deals (worth just shy of $157bn). Silicon Valley-firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati was fifth—up from 31st spot in 2020—having advised on 587 deals (worth $110bn). That was driven by a record-breaking year for tech M&A. Tech deals accounted for a fifth of overall deal value, coming in at a record $1.1tr, with the number of deals more than a third higher than in 2020.

Refinitiv: Global Announced Deals by Value 2021

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 3 Sullivan & Cromwell 622.5 251
2 2 Latham & Watkins 604.3 943
3 6 Kirkland & Ellis 572.3 977
4 1 Davis Polk & Wardwell 529.9 238
5 11 White & Case 512.8 516
6 10 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 490.7 252
7 7 Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 448 314
8 4 Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz 422.4 108
9 19 Cravath Swaine & Moore 378.2 89
10 6 Paul Weiss 372.9 257

Refinitiv: Global Announced Deals by Volume 2021

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 2 Goodwin Procter 176.7 1,083
2 1 Kirkland & Ellis  427.1 572.3
3 3 Latham & Watkins 604.3 943
4 4 DLA Piper 156.9 857
5 31 Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati 110.1 587
6 8 CMS 44.3 528
7 7 White & Case 512.8 516
8 5 Jones Day 186.5 468
9 6 Baker McKenzie 180.8 435
10 16 Willkie Farr & Gallagher 148.3 402
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