White & Case beats Sullivan & Cromwell and Simpson Thacher to top global H1 M&A ranking

Record first half sees trio of elite Wall Street practices secure top-five Mergermarket slots alongside White & Case and Latham

White & Case has topped Mergermarket’s global M&A advisory league table for the first half of 2021 as deal making surged to the fastest start to a year on record.

Overall global M&A activity hit $1.6tr in the second quarter – up from $475bn in the same period last year and lifting first half activity to almost $3trn, Mergermarket data show. The surge in activity has particularly benefited Wall Street’s elite firms, with Sullivan & Cromwell, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz all making the top five ahead of sixth-placed Kirkland & Ellis, although the Chicago giant’s deal tally of 420 easily surpasses the trio's combined deal count (see tables below). 

White & Case saw the value of deals it worked on in the opening six months of the year surge more than three times higher than 2020 levels, advising on 246 transactions worth $421bn – lifting it from ninth to first place. 

Sullivan & Cromwell ranked second by deal value, working on 101 deals worth $392bn – more than four times the value of transactions it worked on in the opening six months of 2020 when it ranked 14th globally. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett ranked third, advising on 110 deals worth just under $378bn – up from roughly $71bn in 1H20. 

Latham & Watkins and Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz completed the top five, both slipping two places in the rankings respectively. Last year’s top ranking firm in the first half of the year – Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – dropped to 10th, working on 133 deals worth almost $219bn, compared to roughly $145bn in 2020.

White & Case, meanwhile, played a significant role in deals across the world, topping the rankings in Latin America while placing second and third in the US and Europe respectively. 

John Reiss, head of White & Case’s global mergers and acquisitions practice, said: “We are experiencing a continuing torrent of M&A activity across industries and geographies stretching advisor and regulator resources. While we do see the beginnings of a slowdown in the SPAC capital markets, particularly for less seasoned issuers, generally speaking we are not predicting a slowdown in M&A activity as long as the optimism of market participants continues at current levels as reflected in the continuing strength of stock markets around the world.”

Dealogic’s M&A Insights team said: “On the back of the longest equity bull market in history, and amid persistently low interest rates, strategic and financial buyers have ample cash reserves and appealing debt financing options at their disposal to pursue M&A.”

Meantime, Kirkland & Ellis topped Mergermarket’s league table by deal count, working on 420 deals worth just shy of $317bn – up from second place in 2020. DLA Piper, last year’s top ranking firm for deal count in 1H, slipped to second place having advised on 377 deals worth $54bn. Latham & Watkins was a non-mover in third, working on 332 deals worth almost $327bn. White & Case was fourth by deal count, followed by Goodwin Procter, which worked on 216 deals (worth $86bn). 

Mergermarket: Global H1 2021 Deals by Value

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 9 White & Case 421.1 246
2 14 Sullivan & Cromwell 329 101
3 15 Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 377.6 110
4 2 Latham & Watkins 326.9 332
5 3 Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz 323.4 55
6 7 Kirkland & Ellis 316.9 420
7 16 Cravath Swaine & Moore 304.3 48
8 4 Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 275.6 143
9 12 Davis Polk & Wardwell 231.4 100
10 1 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 218.9 133


Mergermarket: Global H1 2021 Deals by Volume

2021 2020 Firm Value ($bn) Deals
1 2 Kirkland & Ellis  98.3 420
2 1 DLA Piper 15.6 377
3 3 Latham & Watkins 132.6 332
4 5 White & Case 90.7 246
5 4 Goodwin Proctor 32 216
6 10 Sidley Austin 23.7 193
7 28 Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe 42.3 168
8 7 Jones Day 26 152
9 15 Weil Gotshal & Manges 16.4 144
10 21 Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 96.9 143


Additional reporting by Madeline Anderson

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