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‘A cautious return’: M&A activity picks up pace as Skadden and Slaughter and May top global and UK rankings respectively

Following a less than stellar 2023, M&A activity in Q1 has picked up pace as market confidence grows, according to data compiled by Dealogic.

During Q1, global M&A volume increased by 34% compared to Q1 2023, with total deal value reaching $839.2bn.

Taking the top spot for legal advisors ranked by global M&A volume was Skadden, which achieved a 20% market share, with 46 deals worth a total of $170bn. The firm moved up three spots from last year’s ranking, knocking Sullivan & Cromwell from first place.

Discussing his firm’s success, Lorenzo Corte, global head of Skadden’s transaction practices, told Legal Business: ‘We are seeing a resurgence of large M&A dealmaking and a growing pipeline of M&A deals, reflecting a renewed confidence in dealmaking as well as the adaptability of market players.

‘With inflation and interest rates appearing to settle, companies have started to capitalise on strategic opportunities and we’re cautiously optimistic that this momentum of dealmaking will continue for the rest of the year.’

Paul Weiss took second place in the global rankings, with 19% market share and 37 deals, and a total value of $159bn. The remaining spots in the top five were taken by Wachtell, with an 18% market share, Sullivan & Cromwell, with a 14% market share, and Kirkland & Ellis, with a 12% market share.

Last year the top five places were taken by Sullivan & Cromwell, Wachtell, Goodwin, Skadden, and Kirkland. Goodwin has fallen out of the top ten in this year’s ranking.

This year’s global top ten was dominated by US firms, with not a single UK firm making the ranking. Last year Freshfields took tenth place, with a 6% market share – but this year the firm does not feature. Cravath and Gibson Dunn are the two new entrants, in ninth and tenth place respectively.

In the UK rankings, meanwhile, Slaughter and May took first place after ranking eighth last year. The firm achieved a 33% market share with a total deal value of $26bn across ten deals. It was followed by Linklaters in second place, which achieved a 29% market share across ten deals with a total value of $23bn. Skadden placed third, with a 13% market share, followed by White & Case and Sullivan & Cromwell, each with a 12% market share.

Key deals for Slaughters in Q1 included advising ELIQUENT Life Sciences on its acquisition of international regulatory consultancy RApport Global Strategic Services, and advising motoring and cycling products distributor Halfords on its entry into strategic partnership with tyre distributor Bond International, alongside the disposal of select existing tyre supply operations to Bond International.

Speaking to Legal Business, Slaughters’ co-head of corporate and M&A Simon Nicholls said: ‘We’ve been very busy this quarter as the market sees a cautious return to more dealmaking. Our success shows the strength of a broad and well covered client base, and we’re delighted to have helped our clients realise their ambitions. And there’s been real variety in that work – carveouts, agreed mergers, and bid defence – which has been good to see.’

As the markets begin to stabilise, firms will need to build on the growth of Q1 in Q2 and beyond, taking advantage of normalising interest rates and inflation. However, with ongoing geopolitical conflicts around the world, European growth near zero, and the UK slipping into recession at the end of 2023, dealmakers may well find themselves once again buffeted by external forces. In this environment, capitalising on the successes of Q1 will be a vital endeavour for firms eager to make the M&A comeback more than a temporary reprieve.