Mega Deals Lift Law Firm Trio to Top of 2020 Europe Rankings

A surge in large public deals helped the likes of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Latham & Watkins and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton place highly in the rankings for M&A in the U.K. and Europe in 2020.

While the number of deals fell during 2020 to its lowest level since 2013, the total value of deals rose slightly on last year, thanks largely to multi-billion dollar public market transactions.

This helped firms including Freshfields, Latham and Cleary — all of whom secured roles on some of the largest deals — to outstrip some of last year’s leading firms, such as private equity-focused Kirkland & Ellis, which fell out of the top 10.

Freshfields and Latham both advised on the $30 billion merger talks between London-headquartered insurance companies Aon and Willis Towers Watson.

Latham took roles on several large deals including acting for NVIDIA on its acquisition of chipmaker Arm in a $40 billion deal.

Cleary advised Veolia Environnement, the largest water, waste, and energy management company in France, in its move to acquire rival Suez, in a deal valued at $26.2 billion.

Law firms that failed to secure roles on some of these headline transactions fared less well in the league tables, especially in the U.K. where the move towards fewer but larger deals was most evident. The country’s deal count fell to 1,194 deals, its lowest point since 2013, but the value of deals in 2020 hit $421.1 billion — its highest point since 2015.

Allen & Overy, which topped the U.K. tables in 2019, dropped to 17th.

Kirkland, which was 2nd in the European rankings in 2019, finished 11th in Europe. The firm also fell from 4th to 16th in the U.K. M&A adviser rankings, its worst position since 2016 despite a strong performance in global private equity that saw it increase its lead for that asset class.

DLA Piper again topped the tables for the number of European M&A deals worked on throughout 2020, continuing a streak that has seen the firm place first on deal volumes for eight years in a row.

Much of the activity took place toward the end of the year as pent up demand from the coronavirus lockdowns led to a surge in activity. The final quarter of 2020 saw European deal values skyrocket to their highest quarterly total since 2007. European M&A values hit $1.202 trillion in 2020 Q4. The last time total values surpassed this was in the second quarter of 2007, when the figure stood at $1.283 trillion.

Corporate lawyers told International in December that the period running up to Christmas was among the busiest of their careers, with clients pushing to close deals before the calendar year end.

With reporting by Paul Hodkinson

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