Wachtell, Sullivan and Kirkland top global M&A ranking after a near-record year for mega deals

US firms dominate Mergermarket's 2019 legal advisor league tables; Europe and APAC regions witness sharp falls in deal activity

Stuart Monk

New York M&A powerhouse Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz has surged up the annual global deal adviser ranking to secure top spot ahead of Sullivan & Cromwell and Kirkland & Ellis, according to data compiled by Mergermarket. The firm advised on 69 deals with a combined value of $591bn, a 66% increase on last year’s figure. This was enough to propel it up from ninth place in last year’s table.

Sullivan moves up from fourth place last year, advising on 154 deals with a value of $545bn while Chicago-based Kirkland jumps from 13th place to third off the back of second-highest deal count of any law firm – the 663 deals it advised on had a combined value of $539bn.

Davis Polk & Wardwell and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton complete the top five (see table, below).

It was a less successful year for the UK’s magic circle elite – at least in terms of their relative performance – with the two representatives of this grouping who made the top ten last year slipping down the ranking. 

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer fell from sixth to 12th place after it advised on 213 deals valued at $307.2bn - a 27% decline in value – while Allen & Overy moved down six notches from 10th to 16th, with the overall value of the deals it advised on declining by 29%.

There was a corresponding slowdown in M&A deal activity both in Europe and the Asia Pacific region, which recorded 22% and 23% falls in activity respectively, according to Mergermarket.

US M&A, on the other hand, accounted for 47% of the entire global market, the highest share since 2001.

In all, global M&A activity was down 6.9% against last year, although it beat 2016 and 2017 levels despite a significant slowing of activity in the second half of the year.

There were 38 megadeals valued at more than $10bn, a number only beaten in 2015, which was a record year for global M&A.

Beranger Guille, Mergermarket’s global editorial analytics director, said: “On the back of the longest equity bull market in history, and amid persistently low interest rates, corporates and private equity firms alike have ample cash reserves and appealing debt financing options at their disposal. The feeling that these conditions may not last and the desire to secure future growth are pushing valuations up.”

Meanwhile, DLA Piper pipped Kirkland to top of the global ranking by deal count, advising on 747 deals with a combined value of $63.8bn. Latham & Watkins, Jones Day and White & Case complete the top five in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.

Mergermarket: Global Deals in 2019 by Value
2019 2918 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 9 Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz 591.2 69
2 4 Sullivan & Cromwell 545.2 154
3 13 Kirkland & Ellis 538.6 663
4 1 Davis Polk & Wardwell 439.5 143
5 3 Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton 412.1 136
6 2 Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 403.1 202
7 5 Latham & Watkins 392.8 447
8 8 White & Case 391.5 338
9 7 Simpson Thacher 387.4 152
10 12 Cravath Swaine & Moore 330.2 77


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