MERGERS and acquisitions lawyers are poring over the string of newly released tables ranking their deal counts, deal size and clients against those of their peers.
Freehills was the clear winner in both Bloomberg and Mergermarket’s legal advisory M&A league tables this week in terms of deal count.
But as news reports, including one in The New Lawyer, applauded Freehills’ deal count of 45 in the Australia and New Zealand Bloomberg M&A tables, 20 more than its nearest competitor Clayton Utz, other firms celebrated their scooping market share in terms of deal value.
While Freehills, Clayton Utz, and Blake Dawson and Allens Arthur Robinson (each with deal counts of 20), have been noting the number of deals completed, M&A lawyers themselves covet deal size, says one top M&A lawyer.
Mallesons Stephen Jaques topped both the Bloomberg and Mergermarket tables on deal volume, with a deal value of US$17.7 ($22.2) billion (Mergermarket) and US$8.8 ($11.1) billion (Bloomberg).
While deal count looks impressive, size is what really matters, according to some lawyers in the M&A area.
“Superficial as it may sound, as a M&A lawyer, we’re a superficial bunch and like to see the big deals. They’re significant, they’re challenging, and they’re cutting edge matters that are challenging,” said Craig Semple, partner in Mallesons’ Melbourne M&A practice.
But while the big deals may be more attractive, no lawyer is going to turn down a smaller deal, Semple said. “We’ll go for any deal… What we’re seeing is the larger deals because they’re more high profile, more important.” He said clients tend to turn to firms with a track record of dealing with certain types of deals. Mallesons has not always been at the top of the volume lists, but the same large firms enjoy the top end year after year.
Semple admits there is a large degree of variation between the various tables. If one major deal doesn’t go ahead it’s left off one list, with others will still include it, he said.
In the past year Mallesons was working on the Chinalco investment in Rio, which didn’t go ahead despite months of work on it. Major deals do fall of the list, making the deal volumes appear “lumpy”, said Semple.
“This is the funny thing about the surveys. Lawyers pour over them, but there is different criteria for each of them. It may well be that some won’t include an announced deal that then falls over… You may work on a deal for months and in the end it not proceed.
“If you’re doing those big complex strategic matters inherently by nature it has a lumpy effect on the outcomes. It doesn’t mean we’re more or less busy. All you need is a couple of deals you’re working on not to proceed to announcement and it looks much worse than it is. Thankfully this year that is not the position we’re in.”