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The 10 Best M&A Law Firms

The 10 Best M&A Law Firms

Show Notes Of Podcast

Top Corporate M&A Law Firms

  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Sullivan & Cromwell
  • Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton
  • Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
  • Davis, Polk & Wardwell
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  • Slaughter & May

Investment bankers may steal most of the limelight when it comes to advising on M&A activity, but the revenues generated by the world’s largest law firms show they’re not to be underestimated in the M&A intermediary stakes.

The fact that legal firms are now muscling in on the M&A consulting work of investment banking firms shouldn’t come as a major surprise: professional services iof all forms have been moving towards a more multidisciplinary approach over the past two decades. Legal firms have led the charge.

Law firms offering M&A as part of their service offering follows a solid logic: when a company is advising a business on its legal affairs, why not its acquisitions as well? Law firms also have a significant edge over investment banks and accounting firms when it comes to legal due diligence. Below, we look at the 10 best M&A law firms, based on their performance in 2019.

Investment bankers may steal most of the limelight when it comes to advising on M&A activity, but the revenues generated by the world’s largest law firms show they’re not to be underestimated in the M&A intermediary stakes.

The fact that legal firms are now muscling in on the M&A consulting work of investment banking firms shouldn’t come as a major surprise: professional services iof all forms have been moving towards a more multidisciplinary approach over the past two decades. Legal firms have led the charge.

Law firms offering M&A as part of their service offering follows a solid logic: when a company is advising a business on its legal affairs, why not its acquisitions as well? Law firms also have a significant edge over investment banks and accounting firms when it comes to legal due diligence. Below, we look at the 10 best M&A law firms, based on their performance in 2019.

Top Corporate M&A Law Firms

  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Sullivan & Cromwell
  • Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton
  • Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
  • Davis, Polk & Wardwell
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  • Slaughter & May

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Watchtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (WLRK) delivered a record-beating 2019, advising on US$689 billion total deal volume, spread across 76 transactions. Not only did this represent a jump of 46% in total deal value when compared to the year before, it also meant that the average deal that this law firm advised on jumped from US$5.56 billion to US$9.06 billion. Of these, undoubtedly the most high profile deal was Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion cash and stock deal for Celgene, which also took advantage of WLRK’s considerable expertise in antitrust dealings.

Kirkland & Ellis

A perennial on the top 10 M&A law firms, Kirkland & Ellis had a steller 2019, advising on 570 deals with a total deal value in excess of US$520 million. One of the firm’s key strengths has been its ability to create valuable partnerships with major US private equity firms, which saw it advise on over 400 US-based private equity deals alone. Its performance has dropped off considerably at the beginning of 2020, but with private equity firms sitting on trillions of dollars of ‘dry powder’, expect to see Kirkland & Ellis near the top of the law firm M&A tables once more very shortly.

Sullivan & Cromwell

Sullivan & Cromwell is increasingly teaming up with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz on deals, moving it up into the upper echelons of M&A deals. These have included EBay’s spinoff of Stubhub for US$4.5 billion. In 2019, Sullivan & Cromwell advised on 145 deals with a total deal volume of US$481 billion, a mere 1.31% increase on the 2018 figure. The highlight of these was advising Tiffany’s in Louis Vuitton’s hostile takeover bid. Shareholders at Tiffany’s ultimately warmed to the deal, which was agreed at US$16.2 billion - a 22% premium to the closing price at the last time of trading.

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton hit the news in Q2 2020 when it emerged that it would be providing advice to the US Treasury on COVID-19 loans. It closed out 2019 with 145 deals and a total deal volume of US$425 billion. Although still an impressive return, it represented an 11% fall on 2018 total deal volume. The drop in M&A activity is likely to be temporary: This law firm maintains strong relationships with a number of governments, including Brazil’s government and is likely to be one of the beneficiaries when Brazil inevitably begins privatizing some of its infrastructure assets in the coming 18 months.

Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett

Perhaps no firm has a list of private equity clients as impressive as that of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, whose client list includes none other than BlackRock and KKR. Like Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, it saw a fall in M&A activity in 2019. Its deal volumes fell 15% to US$392 billion, spread across 183 deals. Nonetheless, as one might expect from a firm with such a high profile client list, several of the deals stole the headlines. For example, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett advised the BlackRock Group on its record US$18.7 billion acquisition of GLP’s logistics assets in the first half of the year.

Latham & Watkins

In 2019, it advised on 385 M&A transactions with a total value of US$366 billion. The average deal size of Latham & Watkins usually tends to hover the US$1 billion mark, but the firm’s leaders say that’s because it places an emphasis on efficiency rather than scale. Having said that, the biggest deal the firm played the role of intermediary on in 2019 was Eldorado Resorts’ acquisition of Caesars Entertainment for US$17.3bn, which made it the top adviser in the consumer sector of M&A in the first half of the year.

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson (FFHS&J) performed solidly in 2019, raising its 2018 advisory value by 40% from US$251 billion to US$350 billion, spread across a smaller number of deals (93 in 2018 versus 80 in 2019). There would appear to be solid growth on the horizon for the firm in Europe as well: It helped European private equity giant Permira close out its latest fund in Q4 2019, suggesting that it will be the beneficiary of ample intermediary work when deals begin flowing.

Davis, Polk & Wardwell

Despite a relatively low showing on this list - which has been ordered by 2019 deal volume - Davis, Polk & Wardwell was awarded “M&A Team of the Year” in June 2019 by Legal Week and the American Lawyer. The award, it should be noted, was more for its commendable achievements in 2018, when it advised on a total deal volume of US$473 billion, placing it third in the legal firm standings overall and representing a record year for the firm since its foundation in 1849.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom may be becoming the victim of its own success. Most of the headlines it has generated in 2020 have been for other major firms stealing its practice leaders. The firm’s partners will be hoping it can curb the exodus in the second half of the year to allow it to continue on its growth trajectory. It provided legal advice to LVMH on its acquisition of Tiffany’s in 2019, with total deal volume reaching US$326 billion - a concerning 40% below the corresponding figure for the year before.

Slaughter & May

Slaughter & May was one of the best performing M&A law firms in 2019, advising on deals worth US$312.6 billion, a 35% improvement on the 2019 figure. As a practice primarily operating out of London, the nearly 150-year old law firm primarily piggybacks on deals from British investment banks including Barclays and Rothschilds and has been involved in much of the largest UK M&A activity over the past decade.

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Investment bankers may steal most of the limelight when it comes to advising on M&A activity, but the revenues generated by the world’s largest law firms show they’re not to be underestimated in the M&A intermediary stakes.

The fact that legal firms are now muscling in on the M&A consulting work of investment banking firms shouldn’t come as a major surprise: professional services iof all forms have been moving towards a more multidisciplinary approach over the past two decades. Legal firms have led the charge.

Law firms offering M&A as part of their service offering follows a solid logic: when a company is advising a business on its legal affairs, why not its acquisitions as well? Law firms also have a significant edge over investment banks and accounting firms when it comes to legal due diligence. Below, we look at the 10 best M&A law firms, based on their performance in 2019.

Top Corporate M&A Law Firms

  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Sullivan & Cromwell
  • Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton
  • Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
  • Davis, Polk & Wardwell
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  • Slaughter & May

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Watchtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (WLRK) delivered a record-beating 2019, advising on US$689 billion total deal volume, spread across 76 transactions. Not only did this represent a jump of 46% in total deal value when compared to the year before, it also meant that the average deal that this law firm advised on jumped from US$5.56 billion to US$9.06 billion. Of these, undoubtedly the most high profile deal was Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion cash and stock deal for Celgene, which also took advantage of WLRK’s considerable expertise in antitrust dealings.

Kirkland & Ellis

A perennial on the top 10 M&A law firms, Kirkland & Ellis had a steller 2019, advising on 570 deals with a total deal value in excess of US$520 million. One of the firm’s key strengths has been its ability to create valuable partnerships with major US private equity firms, which saw it advise on over 400 US-based private equity deals alone. Its performance has dropped off considerably at the beginning of 2020, but with private equity firms sitting on trillions of dollars of ‘dry powder’, expect to see Kirkland & Ellis near the top of the law firm M&A tables once more very shortly.

Sullivan & Cromwell

Sullivan & Cromwell is increasingly teaming up with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz on deals, moving it up into the upper echelons of M&A deals. These have included EBay’s spinoff of Stubhub for US$4.5 billion. In 2019, Sullivan & Cromwell advised on 145 deals with a total deal volume of US$481 billion, a mere 1.31% increase on the 2018 figure. The highlight of these was advising Tiffany’s in Louis Vuitton’s hostile takeover bid. Shareholders at Tiffany’s ultimately warmed to the deal, which was agreed at US$16.2 billion - a 22% premium to the closing price at the last time of trading.

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton hit the news in Q2 2020 when it emerged that it would be providing advice to the US Treasury on COVID-19 loans. It closed out 2019 with 145 deals and a total deal volume of US$425 billion. Although still an impressive return, it represented an 11% fall on 2018 total deal volume. The drop in M&A activity is likely to be temporary: This law firm maintains strong relationships with a number of governments, including Brazil’s government and is likely to be one of the beneficiaries when Brazil inevitably begins privatizing some of its infrastructure assets in the coming 18 months.

Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett

Perhaps no firm has a list of private equity clients as impressive as that of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, whose client list includes none other than BlackRock and KKR. Like Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, it saw a fall in M&A activity in 2019. Its deal volumes fell 15% to US$392 billion, spread across 183 deals. Nonetheless, as one might expect from a firm with such a high profile client list, several of the deals stole the headlines. For example, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett advised the BlackRock Group on its record US$18.7 billion acquisition of GLP’s logistics assets in the first half of the year.

Latham & Watkins

In 2019, it advised on 385 M&A transactions with a total value of US$366 billion. The average deal size of Latham & Watkins usually tends to hover the US$1 billion mark, but the firm’s leaders say that’s because it places an emphasis on efficiency rather than scale. Having said that, the biggest deal the firm played the role of intermediary on in 2019 was Eldorado Resorts’ acquisition of Caesars Entertainment for US$17.3bn, which made it the top adviser in the consumer sector of M&A in the first half of the year.

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson (FFHS&J) performed solidly in 2019, raising its 2018 advisory value by 40% from US$251 billion to US$350 billion, spread across a smaller number of deals (93 in 2018 versus 80 in 2019). There would appear to be solid growth on the horizon for the firm in Europe as well: It helped European private equity giant Permira close out its latest fund in Q4 2019, suggesting that it will be the beneficiary of ample intermediary work when deals begin flowing.

Davis, Polk & Wardwell

Despite a relatively low showing on this list - which has been ordered by 2019 deal volume - Davis, Polk & Wardwell was awarded “M&A Team of the Year” in June 2019 by Legal Week and the American Lawyer. The award, it should be noted, was more for its commendable achievements in 2018, when it advised on a total deal volume of US$473 billion, placing it third in the legal firm standings overall and representing a record year for the firm since its foundation in 1849.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom may be becoming the victim of its own success. Most of the headlines it has generated in 2020 have been for other major firms stealing its practice leaders. The firm’s partners will be hoping it can curb the exodus in the second half of the year to allow it to continue on its growth trajectory. It provided legal advice to LVMH on its acquisition of Tiffany’s in 2019, with total deal volume reaching US$326 billion - a concerning 40% below the corresponding figure for the year before.

Slaughter & May

Slaughter & May was one of the best performing M&A law firms in 2019, advising on deals worth US$312.6 billion, a 35% improvement on the 2019 figure. As a practice primarily operating out of London, the nearly 150-year old law firm primarily piggybacks on deals from British investment banks including Barclays and Rothschilds and has been involved in much of the largest UK M&A activity over the past decade.

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