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Freshfields tops European deal tables as M&A figures drop from record highs

Global M&A volume dropped for 2016 following its record high the year before, and with it Magic Circle firms Linklaters and Clifford Chance have been knocked out of Dealogic’s top ten European attorney rankings.

After three year-on-year increases, last year’s global M&A volume dropped to $3.84trn from 2015’s record $4.66trn. Global attorney rankings for corporate advisory work show Sullivan & Cromwell took out the top spot last year, advising on 106 deals worth $408.5bn pushing Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom down to three with the firm advising on 293 deals worth over $1trn in 2015. For 2016, year Skadden sits in the number three spot ($341.1bn) while Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz sits at number two ($389bn).

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer remained at number one on Dealogic’s Europe corporate advisory only attorney rankings last year, but value dropped with 144 deals totalling $198.3bn down from 143 deals totalling $418.4bn the year previous. Most notably, Linklaters and Clifford Chance dropped out of the top ten from their number three ($228.8bn) and number four ($221bn) places respectively for 2015.

While M&A rankings are notoriously hard to interpret, with US securities and secondary roles typically inflating the position of non-European law firms, such figures suggest that US advisers are steadily pushing into premium deal work in the region. Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Sullivan & Cromwell sit and number two ($162.5bn) and number three ($146.5bn) respectively below Freshfields on Dealogic’s Europe attorney ranking.

Freshfields partner Bruce Embley told Legal Business: ‘We’ve had a very busy year. Coming in at the top of league tables is always very nice but the main thing is to be consistently there or there abouts because it shows you have a robust practice. You can always have the odd outlier year. From an M&A practitioner’s perspective you’d be disappointed if you weren’t pretty busy last year.’

Allen & Overy (A&O) bounced up from number 12 in 2015 to number four last year with 181 deals totalling $134.2bn. Herbert Smith Freehills also leapt up from their spot at number 26 in 2015 to number seven with 74 deals totalling $114.8bn.

‘We’ve had a strong year – we believe that is the result of our continued investment in relationships rather than chasing transactions,’ A&O’s global co-head of corporate Richard Browne said. ‘We are positive about 2017 but we wouldn’t expect a strong bounce. We’d anticipate at this point that 2017 would be broadly similar to 2016.’

Deal volume in the UK was down by 48% in the UK from 2629 deals worth $431.6bn in 2015 to 2979 deals worth $222.3bn in 2016. China dropped 28% percent with 4475 deals worth $479.3bn and the US was also down by 21% with 9152 deals in 2016 worth $1.72trn.